On Friday night, Frank Ocean headlined New York’s Panorama Festival, playing a by-all-accounts stunning set that essentially desconstructed the live-music experience. During that show, Ocean wore a T-shirt that read, “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” And now, since that show, there’s been a fascinating copyright dispute over that shirt, which apparently originated with a teenager’s tweet.
As The New York Times reports, the shirt in question comes from Green Box Shop, an online company founded by the 18-year-old Kayla Robinson. But the phrase written on the T-shirt comes from the 18-year-old Syracuse resident Brandon Male, who tweeted it two years ago. After Ocean wore the T-shirt at Panorama, Green Box got thousands of orders, and it had not yet given Male any sort of credit.
Male tells the Times that he first reached out to the company earlier this year, when he learned about its use of his phrase, and that they dismissed him: “They told me I needed to calm down and said they credited me on Instagram one time. I ended up letting it slide after that.” Meanwhile, Robinson says that she had no idea that the phrase came from anyone’s Twitter: “Someone direct messaged us and said you should put this quote on a shirt. They didn’t send me a screenshot or anything.”
The day after Ocean’s set, Robinson sent Male $100 via Venmo, which did not satisfy Male: “They threw me $100 and told me to go away.” Green Box also linked Male’s original tweet. Robinson says that she’s just now figuring out how to deal with things like intellectual property: “[Sending Male $100] was an impulsive decision. I hadn’t looked at the number of sales, and I wasn’t thinking about it portionwise. It does look like I was just throwing money at him to keep him quiet… Moving forward when people message me with shirt ideas, I should do more investigating.”
There’s apparently no real precedent on whether a tweet counts as intellectual property. And there’s been no lawsuit filed over the Green Box shirt. But it’s pretty interesting that a musician could unintentionally start a conversation like that just by wearing a shirt onstage. You can check out the full Times story here.