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Artists Unite Against Amazon - Stop Selling Counterfeit Goods and Profiting From Copyright Infringement

"the Amazon marketplace is rapidly becoming a cesspool of fraud, counterfeit products, and all out scams." ~ Forbes.com

The majority of cheap items found on Amazon.com that feature artwork are unfortunately counterfeit products. Copyright infringement is a VERY SERIOUS problem as many artists including myself that once made a reasonable living creating the art accessories you enjoy are now finding their incomes cut in half because of unscrupulous companies like Amazon, Ebay, Ali Baba and others. As a former Amazon.com seller and full time artist I've experienced this problem first hand from the inside out. It is not a victimless crime. The online marketplaces are not innocent third parties and it does create "Starving Artists" and consumers have no idea where their dollars are actually going.

Amazon counterfeit products and copyright infringement

This image above is a screen capture of an Amazon search page taken on 4/27/2016. The sugar skull artwork shown is my design "Sugar Skull Paisley Garden". I've labeled which are real (2) and which are fake (5). You can find dozens of examples of just my art on any given day on Amazon, eBay and other marketplaces.

It's not just artwork!  All intellectual property holders are being exploited at Amazon.com - inventors, artists, musicians, authors, brands big and small (see links at the bottom of this page)  The following video from CNBC is a bit heartbreaking for me to watch as Mark's story is nearly identical to mine. What has happened to his invention and business is happening to thousands of Americans and intellectual property holders across the world. 

How does this happen?

1. The consumer (Amazon Customer) usually has no idea this is going on. They purchase a design they like on their chosen product at a cheap price without a second thought as to who the artist is and whether they are purchasing an authentic product.

2. The products are made mostly in China using screen captures of low resolution art files found on artists websites, google image searches or from artist licensed partners like Fine Art America, Society6, and Zazzle. 

customer reviews of counterfeit products on amazon.com with artwork stolen from artists

The above are Amazon reviews of a counterfeit shower curtain from China made from a 800 pixel screen capture file of my artwork "Sugar Skull Paisley Garden". To put this in perspective - the authentic curtains I sell here on my site and through licensed partners are made from a 6,500 pixel file without a watermark. That's an image resolution more than 800% higher than the cheap counterfeit.

3. The fake products are sold mainly by Chinese sellers , but they have also been found globally being resold by many U.S and European sellers which are often linked to organized crime rings. Amazon opened up their site for direct sales from Chinese manufacturers to US citizens in 2015 which is when the counterfeit problem became a crisis. The latest scam on Amazon is that Chinese sellers will list the item as coming from multiple states here in the USA and then ship it from China. If you are unhappy with your item, you will have to pay to ship it back to China, not the state it was supposed to ship from. China obviously does not enforce international copyright treaties and their courts generally do not acknowledge intellectual property rights. This makes lawsuits nearly impossible. 

4. These products are almost always not as described, made from inferior (possibly dangerous) materials and from very low resolution images that make the artwork look fuzzy and/or off-color. These low quality products often still have artist watermarks still on them. They usually sell at incredibly cheap prices and more often than not they ship from China or outside of the USA.

Amazon counterfeit iphone cases and copyright infringement - amazon supports copyright infringement evil american corporation

This image is of iPhone 6 cases featuring my artwork "Mrs Gloria Vanderbone". The one on the left is a counterfeit procured through Amazon.com and the one one the right is the authentic case made from my high resolution art files and sold from my own company "Da Vinci Case". Not only is the art of poor quality - it wasn't a dual layer two piece "Tough" case or made by "Da Vinci Case" as stated.

the chinese crap that amazon.com sells and supports illegal artist copyright infringement

 

5. Amazon's system allows anyone to open up shop without any kind of verification or background check. This is what has allowed organized crime rings to exploit counterfeits for profit so easily.

6. Amazon's system allows sellers to post nearly any product they want without verification of authenticity or rights to reproduce the intellectual property (Art) being sold.

7. The Amazon system is designed to support the illegal activity by allowing any seller to attach themselves to any posted product by anyone including artists, valid licensed sellers and well known name brands indicating that they too sell "the same" item cheaper. All requests to lock a listing or brand from other sellers are denied regardless of registered copyright or trademark ownership. Amazon makes sales rank of products public and even goes as far as emailing other sellers in the same category a list of best selling items and how many offers there are.

I sold my own artwork on device accessories made directly in my studio for 4 years on Amazon with a solid 5 star rating before being forced off the site by Chinese sellers competing against me with my own artwork on cheap counterfeits. Amazon seller support did very little to assist and made the removal very time consuming and difficult by giving me the runaround.  They actually made the situation worse by often by taking action against my own seller account. Artist Rob Snow documented the "Amazon Runaround" quite clearly on his blog at artisticlicense.org. It seems the process / treatment of artists by Ali Baba / Ali Express is quite similar as artist Michel Keck documented her fight in detail to remove infringing products from their site.

Amazon counterfeit goods problem, take down stay down, amazon counterfeit sellers

The above image shows how one of my Da Vinci Case products featuring my original copyrighted artwork gets hi-jacked and offered by dozens of counterfeiters. Amazon will not remove this item from their system - so the counterfeiters just open a new account and reference the original ASIN (product ID) to make it live again. These screen captures were taken 9/23/2016.

8. Amazon often violates the law and refuses to remove infringing items even when a copyright registration is provided. My average seems to be about 3 out of every 5 are denied or improperly handled even when providing my US registration information. Many artists including myself have documented their responses where they repeatedly deny DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) take down requests by replying with random pre-formatted nonsense responses that don't apply to your complaint. Often they don't reply at all and completely ignore the "Expeditious Manner" wording in the law for removal of infringing items.

9. Amazon has outsourced all intellectual property complaints to a contractor in India - I believe this was done not to just save costs, but also so they can reduce their responsibility / liability for not cooperating with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Plus the more frustrating you can make the experience, the less likely artists are to come back and try again.

10. Amazon refuses to acknowledge the problem publicly. - I am just one artist and I submit notices for 30 to a hundred counterfeit products of just my artwork to Amazon.com every month. The official stance even in July, 2016 from an Amazon representative is this:

“Amazon does not allow the sale of counterfeit items on its Marketplace and occurrences of counterfeit products are very rare. Every customer who orders on Amazon is covered by our A-Z guarantee and if they do receive counterfeit goods from a marketplace seller, we will refund or replace that item.”

Considering the number of articles I've linked to below outlining the situation and how bad it has gotten, the only thing that is "RARE" is an acknowledgement of the problem from Amazon and any serious action by Amazon to make the situation better.

Amazon.com counterfeit products from china - artists unite - stop copyright infringement

11. Even fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) features thousands of illegal, poor quality counterfeit products.  Any seller can ship to Amazon's warehouses. Honest sellers that ship their inventory to FBA (even if they choose not to co-mingle inventory) are still at significant risk of having counterfeits introduced without their knowledge. I know this for a fact as it happened to my art iPhone cases I make in my studio and shipped to Amazon warehouses. When I had my inventory shipped home, two of my boxes had the authentic cases replaced with cheap counterfeits. I suspect this happened from poorly handled customer returns of the counterfeit products.

Amazon counterfeit pillows featuring stolen artwork - amazon.com copyright infringement. artists unite against amazon

Above - More fake pillows being sold by Amazon featuring my original Buddha artwork "Inner Guidance". The images are not likely what you will receive as they were taken from product listings in my Zazzle shop. I have since closed down my Zazzle shop to try and slow the tide of counterfeit products, which has helped somewhat - but it's even more money lost from my business.

Why does Amazon let this happen? 

 $$$$ greed. We can assume the only logical reason Amazon allows and supports the illegal counterfeit products trade and copyright infringement so strongly is that they can make more money selling a larger volume of cheap counterfeits vs a smaller volume of more expensive artisan original products. Amazon makes money on every counterfeit item sold. From membership fees paid by counterfeit sellers as well as a transaction fee for every item sold and from importing, shipping and fulfillment fees they charge to distribute these items from their warehouses through their FBA progam.

Doesn't a registered Copyright protect Artists? Why not sue them?

 An artist in the USA has an immediate copyright at the point of creation.  The copyright however, must be registered with the government in order to take legal action in court. The primary downfall of the US copyright system is that there is no practical enforcement to protect the intellectual property. Law enforcement does not respond to copyright infringement claims. There is no assistance from the police, the FBI, IC3, DOJ or the US government in enforcing copyright laws in online marketplaces. All of this is left up to the civil-suit court system. The U.S. copyright registration is much like a fancy extended warranty certificate from a company that went bankrupt. You have little chance of getting anything unless you file lawsuit and the 1998 DMCA laws protect the American companies making the biggest profits from counterfeits.

The Chinese economy and companies like Amazon, Ali Baba and Ebay that support these illegal activities count on this lack of enforcement. They know international lawsuits against anyone in China is a fruitless effort.  These companies hide behind their "Safe Harbor" status that protects them from liability of what sellers do in their marketplaces. This then allows them to create a complex system of tools, policies and practices to encourage the copyright infringements and profit from it directly without being held responsible for it.

Once you've taken away an artists income - they have no money to hire a lawyer. If somehow they do, companies like Amazon have a legal army that will tie up your case until you have not a penny left. 

Sep 19th, 2016 -The U.S Department of State issues Urgent Warning Report -Intellectual Property Enforcement Critical To Safeguarding Our Security and Advancing Economic Prosperity

Intellectual Property Commission Report and Recommendations to the U.S. Government on The American Intellectual Property Crisis. ~ ipcommission.org

The European Perspective on The Outdated DMCA Laws and What Needs To Be Fixed ~ Artists For An Ethical and Sustainable Internet

Links To Additional Articles on Counterfeit Products & Copyright Infringement:

     This is pretty funny - nice parody on the Amazon counterfeit situation !

     A recent news Segment from WFMY Channel 2 News in North Carolina covering the ongoing counterfeit and intellectual property theft that occurs at Amazon.com

    Artists unite against amazon - stop supporting copyright infringement and counterfeit goods - Artwork - Peoples Republic of Amazon

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