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RedBubble relents over Hipster Hitler t-shirt storm

Monday, 6 June 2011 | By Oliver Milman

RedBubble has finally removed the Hipster Hitler t-shirts that caused uproar among some of its readers, following talks with the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission.


The online retail site, which prints and distributes the work of artists, was accused of making light of the Holocaust by listing the Hipster Hitler merchandise, which features images of Adolf Hitler in a cardigan and skinny jeans and slogans such as “Death Camp For Cutie”, “Back to the Fuhrer” and “Eastside Westside Genocide”.


StartupSmart understands that RedBubble was considering pulling down only certain t-shirts from the range but the site has decided to de-list all of the merchandise.


As we reported last week, RedBubble’s legal advisers Arnold Bloch Leibler cut all ties with the company over the controversy, which has provoked a stream of complaints over the last six months.


Speaking to the Sunday Age on the weekend, Mark Leibler, founding partner at the law firm and a prominent figure in the Australian Jewish community said: ''We will not act for a company that in effect promotes Nazism.”


This was subsequently followed by the revelation that PayPal was investigating whether RedBubble breached its terms and conditions by listing the Hipster Hitler material.


However, a PayPal spokeswoman tells StartupSmart: “PayPal has now conducted a full review of the website and has determined that the site adheres to our Acceptable Use Policy.”


“PayPal would not take action on an individual’s artistic expression unless it was in clear breach of our AUP.”


A group of outraged RedBubble users said that they had targeted the site’s partners, such as PayPal and TerreNap, its US-based server, to put pressure on the company to cease its involvement with Hipster Hitler, as well as take action over inappropriate images on children’s t-shirts.


Users claimed that they have had their criticisms censored on RedBubble’s forums, with some complaining that their accounts were summarily deleted for opposing the Hipster Hitler link-up. RedBubble has vehemently denies this.


In a post to RedBubble’s community, Martin Hosking, the site’s CEO, says that the merchandise has been taken down “pending final outcome of our discussions with a range of organisations including the Anti-Defamation Commission.”


Replies to the post from users are generally supportive of the move, with one commenting: “Excellent news Martin… it’s taken awhile but best to do this now before any more damage is done to the RB image and brand.”


Speaking to StartupSmart, Hosking says that the entire range was taken down as it was “very difficult to make a nuanced decision as to what to take down and what to keep up.”


“I think people are relieved at this, but other people are also concerned about freedom of expression. It was going to be a controversial decision either way.”


“We’ve taken them down pending a final decision, but I’d say it’s unlikely that they will go up again.”


“We’ve taken time to consider this issue and speak to the ADC, which has 60 years’ experience in this area, and we’ve taken action. At no stage did the ADC suggest that we’d done anything inappropriate.”


“There’s no suggestion that this was promoting hatred. It was always about the limits of parody. It (crossed the line) by the fact that some people could misunderstand or misrepresent the parody.”


Hosking refuses to comment on speculation that the board of Aconex, of which he chairs, had put pressure on him to remove the Hipster Hitler merchandise.


A letter sent by a minor Aconex shareholder, and seen by StartupSmart, claims that the Hipster Hitler issue “damages Aconex to have its chairman push the envelope on how pro-Hitler merchandise has to be before it becomes unacceptably offensive to sell.”


The letter called for the board to consider Hosking’s position. Last week, Hosking confirmed that the Aconex board had received the letter and was considering it independent of him.