Artists Unite Against Amazon - Stop Selling Counterfeit Goods and Profiting From Copyright Infringement
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Amazon says they're expanding their counterfeit removal program - Can sellers and customers believe them? ~ Reuters
- Amazon "just launched" third party sellers offer a flood of fake merchandise and scams ~ Forbes.com
- Designers battle to protect intellectual property online ~ eCommerce fuel
- Counterfeit Makeup Jumped 25% - resellers are obtaining fake cosmetics through Alibaba, Amazon and eBay ~ Bloomberg.com
- Chinese regulators investigating Amazon China, Alibaba, Baidu and JD over counterfeits, false advertising and falsified sales figures. ~ Madison.com
- Feds get involved in investigating counterfeits after billions of dollars of Super Bowl merchandise appear on Amazon and Ebay. ~ ChicagoTribune.com
- Amazon subpoenaed by textbook publishers over counterfeit sales. ~ Newsonhand.com
- Amazon must focus on quality over quantity when conducting investigations into counterfeits ~ World Trademark Review
- When E-commerce Sites Steal Your Art (and your profits) ~ thebillfold.com
- What is Amazon's responsibility for counterfeit goods sold to consumers? Snuggie is suing for millions ~ The National Law Review
- Amazon is Losing Sellers and Customers to Chinese Counterfeiters Because Their HR Strategy is Broken! ~ Forbes
- What Trump doesn't know about Alibaba's jobs pledge - The problem that Ma's created has already cost the U.S. Millions of jobs ~ CNBC
- Kenzo sues Amazon sellers over counterfeits - Securing Industry
- Alibaba sues sellers of coutnerfeit goods for the first time after it was blacklisted by the US ~ CNBC
- NHL, MLB and NBA have convinced a US federal court to shut down 1,057 websites selling counterfeit jerseys and memorabilia. Alibaba ordered to turn over seller info ~ TSN.ca
- Amazon faces further backlash and lawsuits over counterfeit hoverboards, blankets, artist copyright infringement and patent infringement ~ CNBC
- Can the Music Recording Industry and Artists fight online counterfeits at Amazon and other marketplaces? ~ wharton.upenn.edu
- eBay and Amazon Risky for Holiday Shoppers - Millions of Counterfeit Product Listings Await Them! ~ thecounterfeitreport.com
- Counterfeit Products Await Black Friday Holiday Shoppers at Amazon, EBay and Alibaba ~ thecounterfeitreport.com
- Amazon cancels marketplace moneyback A-Z guarantee on counterfeit goods purchased ~ thecounterfeitreport.com
- Amazon tries to save face over counterfeit goods crisis. US based counterfeiters sued, while Chinese merchants ignored.
- "It's heart-wrenching: Independent Designers Face a Flood of Knock-Off Products ~ theglobeandmail.com
- 1 out of every 4 CD's Sold on Amazon is a Counterfeit ~ digitalmusicnews.com
- Feds bust Chinese knock-off parts suppliers at SEMA Autoshow - sold parts on Amazon and eBay ~ Autoweek
- Crackdown required for eBay and Amazon counterfeits - Notified of 1.7 million counterfeit listings ~ thecounterfeitreport.com
- Music Industry Groups - Counterfeit CD Sales at Amazon Hurting Artists and Labels ~ AssociationsNow.com
- Artist Michel Keck documents her fight with Ali Baba / Ali Express to remove counterfeits of her work.
- Artist Kim Haskins reports copyright infringement / fake products featuring her work at Amazon.com ~ KimHaskinsArt.com
- Apple says in lawsuit Amazon resold counterfeit apple accessories directly to consumers ~ RetailDive.com
- Counterfeit CDs across Amazon deprive artists, writers, labels and publishers of revenue ~Billboard Magazine
- Influx of counterfeits at Amazon, AliBaba and eBay create opportunity for brands. ~ TheFashionLaw.com
- Authors Beware - The Art of Electronics Counterfeit Books Being Sold on Amazon ~ artofelectronics.net
- Amazon Seller Forums Thread - Amazon has become a cesspool for fake Chinese con artists. ~ sellercentral.amazon.com
- Google and Amazon now using copyright loopholes to use songs without paying songwriters ~ Huffington Post
- Amazon in lawsuit with artist over defecating unicorn art ~ World Intellectual Property Review
- Beware of Counterfeit Items on Amazon Using Stolen Artwork ~ Carolinafinds.com
- Amazon disrespects Artist's Rights ~ artistic-license.org
- National Geographic Photographer Says Amazon Won't Stop Selling His Stolen Photograph ~ petapixel.com
- Amazon Created Their Own Counterfit Problem ~ Digital Trends
- Amazon made it easier for Chinese counterfeiters to sell you fake products ~ Yahoo News
- Artists Fight To Reform Copyright Laws in Open Letter to Congress
- How China's Alibaba Helps Counterfeit Goods Reach US Pirates and Amazon.com ~ International Business Times
- Hundreds of frustrated sellers grilled Amazon Exec over Chinese counterfeit products ~ Business Insider
- How Amazon Nearly Destroyed Da Vinci Case ~ The Da Vinci Case Story
- Reaping Profits Through Copyright Infringement ~ Artsyshark.com
- The Amazon and eBay Sales Scheme of Arbitrage ~ Entrepreneur.com
- The $4 million battle over counterfeit pool toys at Amazon ~ Bloomberg.com
- Chinese Alibaba CEO Jack Ma says: "Fakes are often better than the real thing" ~ BusinessInsider.com
- Chinese Counterfeiters on Amazon Stealing Designs from Society6 - Artist Christine from the Zizzling Zazzle Blog
- Amazon ships counterfeit AMD computer chips ~ ExtremeTech
- Holiday Shopper Alert! - How eBay, Amazon and Alibaba fuel the worlds top illegal industry - the counterfeit products market ~ LAWeekly
- Beware of fake health supplements on Amazon! ~ Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD
- Consumer Fraud Center calls Amazon's effots to squash third-pary counterfeiting "hypocrisy" ~ TheNextWeb.com
- Warner Brothers files lawsuit against 21 counterfeit Amazon sellers, but not against Amazon ~ Hollywood Reporter
- Zazzle artists demand a better response and action regarding stolen art and designs sold on Amazon ~ Zazzle.com
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