George Floyd death, protests lead to merchandise sales even on Amazon

George Floyd death, protests lead to merchandise sales even on Amazon

Josh Peter
USA TODAYPublished 4:51 PM EDT Jun 16, 2020Corrections and Clarifications: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified an Amazon spokesperson. By now you’ve probably seen the T-shirts and face masks bearing George Floyd’s name and image. But have you seen the “Justice For George Floyd’’ running shoes?Or how about the “Call for Justice for George Floyd’’ throw pillow?Or the “George Floyd R.I.P.” underwear?Yes, underwear, $18 for three pair.The death of Floyd, an African American man who was suffocated under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, has done more than set off protests and soul searching across the United States. It also has triggered the selling of an array of merchandise, much of it listed on Amazon.“Clearly opportunists,’’ said James Thomson, an adviser for brands selling online. “All these people selling T-shirts, they’re basically along for the ride, making money on it.“Whether they care about the social aspects, it’s just the surfboard to jump onto and ride as long as the wave is there.’’Selling merchandise tied to tragedy or a major news event is not a new phenomenon.Soon after Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, T-shirts bearing their images were for sale online and on the street.The same thing happened not long after Eric Garner repeated the words “I can’t breathe’’ in 2014 when a white police officer put him into a chokehold in New York that ended his life.And T-shirts remembering the Virgin Mary’s believed appearance to six children in southern Bosnia in 1981 are still being sold there today, as are T-shirts commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the visions of the Virgin Mary reported by three shepherd children in Portugal. In fact, they’re available for purchase on Amazon on socks, coffee mugs and hoodies.On Tuesday, Floyd’s funeral was a powerful scene — and it was easy to spot face masks bearing his name as about 500 people streamed into The Fountain of Praise Church in Houston. The 10-person Houston Ensemble sang from the choir loft and Rev. Al Sharpton eulogized the man whose image and name were omnipresent.No more than 50 yards from the church, Christopher Moody of Columbia, S.C. said, he was selling George Floyd T-shirts for $20 and George Floyd masks for $10.“When a good movement comes, something public is going on, that’s when it gets done,’’ Moody, 37, said of his merchandise. “It helps somebody make a silent statement for what they stand for.’’Dezzie Storne of Savannah, Georgia, said he was selling George Floyd T-shirts for $15 under an old pop-up tent along the procession route and as a horse-drawn carriage carrying Floyd’s remains passed by on its way to Houston Memorial Gardens for Floyd’s burial.Storne, who is African American and described himself as a committed activist, said he saw about 10 other street vendors and they came from as far as California, Tennessee and Michigan.“Yes, I’m selling a product, and people are wearing this product to express their desire about this particular issue, right?” he said. “The product is used to promote the issue.”Jennifer Rothman, a law professor at LMU Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and an expert on state laws protecting individuals’ identities, said it’s unclear if  selling merchandise bearing Floyd’s name or image could result in legal liability. But Rothman pointed out that the holders of Elvis Presley’s rights successfully sued to block the sale, at least temporarily, of “in memoriam” posters in the aftermath of the rock legend’s death.“I think the First Amendment should be protecting those sorts of collective moments of grieving or a political movement,” said Rothman, author of “The Right of Publicity: Privacy Reimagined for a Public World. “But the law is incredibly unclear about how to treat uses in merchandise.”For example, Rothman said, Martin Luther King Jr’s estate was able to stop the sale of plastic statues with his face on them but Rosa Parks’s foundation failed to stop a mass-produced plaque with her name and image on it from being sold.”Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing George Floyd’s family, did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.Many of the transactions are taking place online, where companies offer a variety of products thanks to mass customization and produce- or print-on-demand techniques, said e-commerce analysts such as Thomson, author of the book “The Amazon Marketplace Dilemma.”In many cases, Chinese companies warehouse the plain sneakers, plain socks and other plain products before they are customized with a logo such as George Floyd’s face and the slogan “Justice for George Floyd.””A made-to-order seller doesn’t really care whether somebody picks a pair of underwear or a lunch box or a T-shirt,” Thomson said of the business model. “You don’t care, because in the end, it’s all the same. I take a $2 T-shirt, put a logo on top of it and sell it for 20 bucks. Let’s rinse and repeat and make a lot of money.”Attempts to reach companies selling George Floyd-themed merchandise through Amazon’s website were unsuccessful and few of the companies had websites.“The winner here is Amazon,’’ Thomson said “They make a 15% sales commission on every one of these items.’’Ellie Bryan, an artist in Minneapolis, said her rendering of Floyd was used to raise more than $2,000 for the George Floyd Memorial Fund and the Gianna Floyd Fund — but has fallen victim to ripoff artists. She provided screenshots of her artwork that are now being used without her approval by online merchants selling T-shirts.“I am not interested in cashing in on his death,’’ Bryan said by email message, “and, in fact, I have already had to take legal action against people who have stolen my artwork for the intention of doing that.’’While T-shirts sales continued to sell online — not only on Amazon, but also on platforms like Etsy and Cafe Press — street vendors like Sharon John on Tuesday were also selling George Floyd T-shirts in Harlem.“The important message I feel is to reach our people, to reach our allies, to let them know that Black lives do matter,’’ John said. “They can honor George and all the other people that have been killed by police brutality.’’Also selling George Floyd T-shirts in Harlem, Nicole Deneus said she was motivated by “supply and demand.’’“For me to make money, I just decided to come out here and figure it out,” she said.Across the country, Darick Breland sports a “Justice for George Floyd’’ T-shirt he designed for himself. He is selling custom-made George Floyd T-shirts for $19.99 at Cali Shore, his store on the Venice Beach boardwalk in Southern California.“It’s not really about the money,” Breland said. “It’s about me being an African American male and understanding the messages needed to be heard.“I also make a shirt that says, ‘I Love my Glock.’ It’s crazy times.”Contributing: Coral Murphy


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