Designer stops selling Tayla Harris T-shirt after AFL legal threats

League Tees T-shirt and badge design, inspired by a photo of Carlton AFLW forward Tayla Harris.
League Tees T-shirt and badge design, inspired by a photo of Carlton AFLW forward Tayla Harris.

An independent Melbourne online clothes store has stopped selling T-shirts with an "original design" depicting footy star Tayla Harris after the AFL claimed the artwork breached copyright.

On Wednesday last week, the owner of League Tees online store Anthony Costa released a T-shirt and badge with a design inspired by a photo of Carlton AFLW forward Harris.

The photo, taken by AFL Media chief photographer Michael Willson, went viral after Ms Harris took a stand against online trolls who had written graphic comments on the picture.

The AFL's general manager of inclusion and social policy Tanya Hosch said Harris was already planning to use the image to raise money for charity.

"As I understand it, what has occurred in that instance is that Tayla Harris is already in negotiations with the club to have some merchandise put together herself and intends for all of that to go to charity," she told radio station 3AW.

The celebrated photo of star footballer Tayla Harris. Photo: Michael C. Wilson/AFL Media

The celebrated photo of star footballer Tayla Harris. Photo: Michael C. Wilson/AFL Media

"So we just want Tayla to have the opportunity to pursue that in negotiation with her club and as I understand it, her intention is to make sure money raised go to to Our Watch."

Our Watch is an organisation that aims to end violence against women and children.

"I guess what we are saying here is that Tayla has the right to make a decision about how that image of herself is managed and we want to support her in that opportunity," Ms Hosch said.

"But it doesn't mean we wouldn't consider supporting the charity this other artist is wanting to support in relation to supporting women's football."

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr Costa was forced to pull merchandise from the store after receiving a legal letter from the AFL.

The letter, sent to Mr Costa on Tuesday morning, said League Tees' Tayla Harris T-shirts and badges were "using AFL intellectual property to promote, advertise and market particular merchandise that utilises or is deceptively similar to AFL intellectual property".

Tayla Harris speaks at a press conference after the furore. Photo: Justin McManus

Tayla Harris speaks at a press conference after the furore. Photo: Justin McManus

"League Tees has no official connection of affiliation with the AFL and has not been authorised or licensed by the AFL to utilise AFL intellectual property in the manner described," the letter reads.

It says the AFL was concerned the T-shirt design could constitute copyright infringement as the silhouette of Harris was a "substantial reproduction" of a photograph which is owned by the AFL.

It demanded League Tees cease from using the design by April 9 and remove the products from the store.

"If League Tees does not comply with the above demands within the timeframe stated, the AFL will consider any legal avenues of recourse it many have against League Tees without further notice," the letter reads.

It is the AFL's first publicised intellectual property claim of the Harris image, and raises questions on any possible future adaptations of the photo.

League Tees had been raising money for Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation by selling the T-shirt, and had donated more than $1000 of the profits to the charity.

Mr Costa, who was the designer, believes it was an original work and disagrees with the AFL's claims.

"This was an original artwork that was substantially different to the photo," he said.

"Nothing was copied, the photo was used as a reference point, but every line was drawn by hand. It's an original piece of artwork that belongs to us."

Part of the League Tees online response to the AFL threatening legal action over an artwork of Tayla Harris.

Part of the League Tees online response to the AFL threatening legal action over an artwork of Tayla Harris.

Mr Costa said that while the AFL's claims implied that League Tees could be interpreted as an official AFL outlet, he believed the customers of League Tees valued the brand's independence.

"It's an original, it took a bloody long time for us to draw it and get it right. People loved it, it's raised a lot of money for a really important charity. It's something we're proud to have been involved with."

"We make it pretty obvious that we're not the AFL. I think our customers like us because we're doing something different, and we're actually making things that the AFL would never make."

In League Tees' official response to the AFL, the store said it does not believe there is "any basis on which to allege that League Tees has engaged in conduct likely to mislead or deceive or conduct likely to be considered passing off".

Mr Costa, who started League Tees as a "side project", said he was shocked by the AFL's urgency.

"It should be a fun thing, and today it stopped being a fun thing," he said.

The AFL's letter states their intellectual property claim also includes club names, logos, mascots, nicknames, colour combinations and playing guernseys, plus "various other AFL owned logos".

Items sold on League Tees post a disclaimer that the merchandise is not officially licensed, along with a link to the official AFL website.

The AFL has not responded to requests for comment.