Friday, July 5, 2013

My Sentiments on Copyright Infringement as a Handmade Busniess Owner

 When you are a creator of original content, it is up to you to make your audience love it and want it.

This is easy for companies like Disney/Pixar, Sanrio, and Time Warner. They have enormous budgets for market research and advertising. Their characters are so well-known and loved, that selling their products is not a challenge. Disney doesn't have to do any extra work to sell that plastic crown with Cinderella on it to a little girl, because she's already spent her childhood watching the movie, engrossed in the princess' tale. She already loves it, wants it, and will nag her parents until she gets it. Because it's - Cinderella.

I don't consider Disney to be my competition. They market to the washed masses. Their toys are mass-produced overseas, and don't contribute quality playtime to the children for which they are bought.

In terms of interaction, a sweatshop-produced Simba plush toy with machine-embroidered features doesn't do anything to enrich a child's playtime - the character and the story are already there, the expression is lifeless, and millions of other children have him sitting in their room. These kinds of toys do nothing to encourage imagination.

I create original characters, lovingly brought to life with details made by hand. I can't widely advertise, and I don't have the resources to produce and distribute a blockbuster movie. We are not reaching for the same demographic, and we are in different markets. So, they are not my competition. 

But now they are my competition - thanks to Etsy.

Copyright Infringement and Competition in the Marketplace

The people at Etsy have less-than-stellar business ethics, are hypocritical and arbitrary in the enforcement of their rules, and their general attitude of "everything-is-happy-but-don't look-where-we-don't-shine-the-sunshine" drives me up a wall. Many people won't even post their genuine concerns in the forums for fear of being muted by the admin.

Oh, but I love Etsy! you might say. As a buyer, sure. It's fantastic. The interface isn't exactly user-friendly, but oh, the things you can find!

But just hop on over and type Harry Potter into the search engine, and see why I, as a seller, am less than thrilled.

Etsy prides itself on being a marketplace for the handmade. It is supposed to be an exclusive marketplace only for original handmade items, art supplies, and vintage items. (It is worth mentioning that a factory-produced charm attached to a factory-produced chain qualifies as "handmade" on Etsy, which already pollutes the marketplace.) Anything that does not fit into these categories is to be dealt with by the Etsy Integrity Team. So, they promote their brand to buyers and to sellers as a handmade marketplace. But in practice, they are not a marketplace of the handmade - they are a marketplace of "look-the-other-way!".

So what exactly does the Etsy Integrity team do, then?

You mean besides ignoring unlisenced and copyright-infringing items listed on their site?

I recall an instance where a vintage seller had a listing for a pair of garment buttons. The Integrity team made this seller go through great lengths to prove beyond any doubt that these two little buttons, being sold for less than $5, were indeed 20 years old or more. (Which, honestly, if they weren't, they were still considered a supply.) So, serious stuff, right?

Please take a gander at some of the unlicensed and infringing products listed for sale on Etsy, which day after day, the Etsy Integrity Team so conveniently ignores.

My Little Pony (11,000+ items)
Doctor Who (14,000+ items)
Twilight (16,000+ items)
Hello Kitty (26,000+ items)
Disney (101,000+ items)

It's not difficult at all to find these violations. So why does the Etsy Integrity team let these go under the radar? The answer is simple, really - money.

Etsy earns 3.5% of every sale made on their site. Considering that consumers are far more likely to buy a product with a billion-dollar corporation branded on it than a toy they are unfamiliar with, no wonder the Etsy "Integrity" Team doesn't see any of this.

Not only do they look the other way, but they promote it. Please direct your eyes to this article from the Etsy blog that features Arrested Development finds.

Love the print, not the infringement.

While I am a fan of the show, and while I think these items are actually quite fantastic, the fact stands that these people are making money by creating items that are based off of the work and intellectual property of somebody else. On top of that, they are directly competing with small business owners working very hard to create their own original products.

 I really love this print at the right, but without the show, the art would have no context and little value. Since it is unlicensed, this is theft of intellectual property. 

And for everyone who says, "Oh, it's just fan art!" or "You could consider it a parody!" Once one cent is made from it's sale it is copyright infringement

How can I compete? How can I profitably sell my items in a venue that so falsely advertises itself?

So then - they do nothing, right?

That's right. Etsy does nothing to protect the integrity of a handmade marketplace. They make small, handmade business owners directly compete with people illegally peddling copyrighted works that already have a massive audience. But no calling out in the forums! We can't have any feelings hurt; that would be ungood doubleplus forbidden.

Etsy continues to make clear though their practices that making money from the sale of unlicensed, copyrighted products is more important than preserving the selling environment that they have made their name on.

Has your Etsy-based handmade business been hurt by their business practices? How do you feel about attaching your name to such an unethical company? I know I'm not the only one compromising their own integrity as an artist to sell at a high-volume venue. I'm interested to hear about how others feel about this, so please leave your thoughts in the comments!

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