Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Copyright Infringement, and Resellers On Etsy , SHHHHH!

Sooo, One of my regular customers who uses my images for making pendant jewelry, and is always concerned with doing the right thing as far a copyrights for images, sent me an email today. In all caps she said, "LOOK AT THIS! HOW CAN THEY BE ALLOWED TO DO THIS?
Under her message was a link to an Etsy collage sheet seller's "Twilight Inspired Images" collage sheet. Another perfectly good forum thread had just been closed discussing this issue and she had no idea about it. Later she sent me another email telling me she had asked the seller if the images were legal and if she could use the images to sell on a piece of jewelry , the seller's reply was
(not exactly a direct quote here):
"there are ways to get around that", She told her to "say you're not selling the image. You are selling the piece and the image comes with it for free" (She said this to a serious professional jewelry maker/crafts person) Then the seller went on to tell her with a very professional tone, "when you buy my sheets you're not buying the images you're paying me for the time it took to make the sheets the images are free" (and I guess whatever time it took to right click and copy the hijacked images). Though I'm not a bit surprised by the answer, I am really appalled.

This is how it affects the "community" in case anyone still has any doubts. It affects jewelry makers who don't want to break laws because they are serious about their craft and need/want it to be legit. We all know what a fiasco the over saturated jewelry categories are and how frustrated the sellers are. It has gotten much worse in the last year or so, and drastically worse since September. To have to compete for views with people selling popular images, illegally piggy backing on a marketing powerhouse is like asking the soap makers to compete with Sephora or The Body Shop with competitive prices, not an even playing field. Sephora and The Body Shop have established, reputable names and spend big bucks to advertise, that's what sells their products ! This does not represent what I thought Etsy was supposed to be about (I believe it had something to do with promoting hand made and giving artists a venue to make a living doing what they love?)
The same problem is going on in my category Supplies> Handmade> Collage Sheets, and many other categories. We have to compete for views with pirates, bootleggers, counterfeiters, and thieves. We have to answer suspicious customers who think we're among the lot of them, and turn away customers who ask us to make sheets with stolen images, because they think if others are doing it it must be okay.
I know that Etsy has to protect their interests($$$) But I am truly saddened that they protect this kind of behavior and stick to their own rules like some out dated dogma. I am saddened that other sellers defend these sellers with remarks like "maybe they don't know it is wrong" or "maybe they just do it a little bit" or have the nerve to suggest it is no one else's business what they sell or who it affects. If you are claiming to be a small independent business owner and you don't know the regulations you need to follow to be legit you shouldn't be selling or you should educate yourself and find out what the rules are, because the Federal law trumps Etsy's rules and Etsy will not defend you when you have to explain yourself to Disney, or San Rio corp, or Twilight, or another seller whose hard work you've stolen for profit. Take the junk to the flea market and stand in the sun all day, but don't attach yourself to a company (Etsy) that is supposedly known for its handmade goodness and awesome crafts people.
Seriously, Etsy has spread itself too thin already. New sellers are often disappointed because they haven't sold anything and haven't got a clue how or why.
They have bought into an *Idea* that is just an illusion at best.

Our shop made the top sellers list after three months with no promoting, just providing a supply that was high quality and legit and d**n good if I may say so myself. We intentionally did not copy any of our competition. We filled an empty space with our shop providing sheets with images no one else had, and we still try to be innovative and different while maintaining quality and great customer service. Every day in our category there are new collage sheet sellers many of them are selling images that are copyright owned, and trademarked characters. Many of them have just switched to selling collage sheets from selling other unrelated products ( jumped on a bandwagon so to speak) We are constantly coming up with new ideas and as soon as we do, we are "copied", subtly, but copied none the less.
By September our sells were plummeting in spite of the fact that we had started promoting and had opened our own website, and blogged, and stumbled, and twittered, and networked, and ning-ed ourselves ragged....yada, yada, yada. I truly believe this happened because of the upsets over at Ebay and the influx of unhappy (or ambitious) Ebay sellers and other Etsy politics.
Morale on the site has deteriorated to an all time low.

Etsy will evolve, it's inevitable. Into what? That's up to the sellers who want to continue to use the venue for their business. If it wants to maintain the Handmade "Stickiness" factor which it has branded itself with, it needs to consciously evolve in that direction. If not it will evolve with the aid of chaos which will determine an unpredictable outcome.

As for the buyers who think this doesn't effect them, well how would you feel if you purchased a beautiful bar of " soap" on Etsy but when the package arrives it's a bar of Ivory soap? What if the description of the soap was so vague and misleading there was no legal action you could take because you weren't really deceived?
So seriously should Etsy have a Buyer Beware reputation? Do sellers want to be associated with such a reputation? I hope not!! I get into these discussions in the forums because I want Etsy to be what it said it wanted to be over two years ago when I found it by accident and thought~ WOW! Finally!~ And when I first joined selling vintage and handmade recycled clothing that I could never even ask a fair price for on Ebay , for a while it really felt like~ WOW! Finally!!~ It doesn't feel that way to me anymore and that doesn't mean I want to leave, It means I want it to improve. The site is down in spite of record sales and record sellers the proportion of vendors to buyers is FIVE to ONE!! Sellers are beginning to bite and claw at each other. Buyers come into the forums to complain about the site. Resellers come every Friday night and camp their flea market junk on the site until Monday, unless they are "called out in the forums" which gets them closed down faster but is a big NO! NO!
The resellers have even been so bold as to start their own forum threads. One was selling Hair Extensions, another was asking if she could sell imported Indian scarves and other accessories, the thread title was "can I mass sell here?" and she argued that she would go ahead and do it because she knew Etsy would not do anything to stop her if she tagged the scarves as supplies This thread turned into the funniest thread I've ever had the honor of participating in. The same person started another thread and was actually selling or giving away a 100$ free facebook advertising Coupons. These were all in the same night!! And all forum posts that went on for hours without being closed by admin. All the while the leather purse sellers and the Oil paintings on canvas painted in sweatshop art factories in China (copies of other legit artists' works), and the Tibetan Silver Jewelry sellers, were doing their usual weekend gigs on Etsy. I don't believe anyone even called them out that weekend except in jest in the other two huge threads that night. Of course those threads were closed by Admin. The coupon thread had already fallen to the second page of threads so I went in an posted a simple " Well?" to bring it back to the top so admin could close it too.

And today after the thread about Disney cracking down on sellers was closed for "calling out" which in the opinion of many who participated in the thread, never happened, TopShelfTotes started a thread asking Etsy to define "calling out" "Trying to understand thread closures". This "spin off" thread, discussed the same issues as the previously closed one and even yeilded quite a few "snarky" comments directed towards me (supposedly an offense punished by thread closures and admin admonishments) . (Meow mix anyone?) . And that thread is still alive! We never heard from Etsy after that, no answer to the ever ambiguous, undefined, question.
However this "Resellers!" thread from 3 days ago is still open even though there were plenty of clues and plenty of "dissing" directed at the offenders, and a direct link to this "are they back?" thread which was active at the same time where I just lost it and blatantly posted links to the stores that were reselling. Inspite of my bad behavior it went on for hours before being closed down. So if anyone thinks they know what calling out is >>Maybe they really don't know at all it's the unanswerable question like:
  • Which came first the chicken or the egg? (We all know the rooster came first!)
  • And what is the meaning of life?
  • Is there intelligent life in the universe?
  • And what constitutes calling out?