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Law firm cuts ties with RedBubble over Hitler t-shirt controversy

Friday, 27 May | By Oliver Milman

Leading law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler has refused to work again with former client RedBubble over the listing of “Hipster Hitler” merchandise on the art retail website, citing its “deep roots in the Jewish community.”


In a statement, ABL’s senior partner Mark Leibler, who is also national chairman of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, says that a post on the Firm Spy website implies that the law firm “condones the distribution of pro-Hitler merchandise” by being associated with RedBubble.


“Arnold Bloch Leibler has had a long and unswerving commitment to fighting discrimination and protecting human rights, and any implication that the firm is supportive of attempts to ‘reinvigorate Nazi ideas' is false and unacceptable to the firm,” he says.


“Furthermore, the firm has deep roots in the Jewish community and is extremely sensitive to the consequences of the Holocaust.


“Arnold Bloch Leibler does not currently act for RedBubble and will not act on behalf of RedBubble in the future; however the firm has previously provided corporate advice to RedBubble.”


Leibler called for the Firm Spy post, and accompanying reader comments on the matter, to be removed. At the time of publication, however, the post remains published.


ABL has distanced itself from RedBubble in protest to the website’s decision to continue acting as a sales portal for several t-shirts featuring artwork from an online comic called Hipster Hitler.


ABL says that it was only made aware of the merchandise on Monday, although Hipster Hitler has been listed on RedBubble since September 2010.


The New York-based comic says it satirises “hipster culture and the exploits of the Third Reich” through its artwork.


T-shirts sold via RedBubble, which acts as a shop window for the work of more than 150,000 artists, feature slogans such as “Stalingrad Class of 1943”, “I Love Juice” and “Eastside Westside Genocide”.


Other t-shirts feature drawings of Adolf Hitler as a scarf-wearing, cardigan-wearing Brooklyn hipster.


Martin Hosking, CEO and co-founder of RedBubble, told StartupSmart that the issue had caused “some disturbance” among the site’s user base over the last six months, but defended the decision not to withdraw the artwork.


“Art has always been controversial, whether it’s Lichtenstein or nude photos,” he says. “We have a commitment to art and creative expression, within guidelines.”


“This is a genuine parody and not anti-Semitic. We looked at this work six months ago with Jewish groups and we concluded it was a parody. I don’t know where you end up when you start taking down art because someone doesn’t like it.”


Hosking, who was previously a diplomat in Egypt and is a former secretary of the Australian Arabic Council, adds: “I do not support Nazi material. I have fought for human rights for the past 20 years and I find any suggestions to the contrary personally offensive.”


Hosking says that “tens” of RedBubble users have deleted their accounts in protest at the featuring of Hipster Hitler.


However, he denies allegations made by commenters on RedBubble that users who voiced dissent have been censored or blocked from the site, or that the Hipster Hitler artwork has the support of far-right groups such as Stormfront.


Hosking says that RedBubble is currently in “productive and friendly discussions with a range of Australian based Jewish organisations, including the ADC (the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission).”


“Together we are working to craft a solution which balances the right to free expression against the legitimate restrictions on this,” he says. “These discussions are ongoing and are drawing to a fruitful conclusion.”


Hosking adds that he “anticipates a change” to RedBubble’s guidelines in wake of the spat, although he refuses to be drawn on whether Hipster Hitler merchandise will be withdrawn from the site.


Currently, RedBubble’s guidelines on “Inciting Violence, Hatred or Racism” state: “Any work or behaviour where the intent of the artist is to incite hatred, violence or racism is not permitted.”


“Consequence: Account suspension and six month probation.”


ABL referred to its statement published on Firm Spy when contacted by StartupSmart. Firm Spy hadn’t responded to an emailed request for comment at the time of publication.