While browsing through my image search results on PIXSY (our new service that finds and invoices image theft for you), I was surprised to see my picture for sale on Etsy (above). My immediate reaction:
- What an ugly mousepad. I’d never print my photo like this.
- The seller seems to be stealing thousands of photos. How could Etsy let this happen?
- Who had the nerve to think they could do this?
So my picture was the party and I wasn’t invited. I decided to see what I could do to notify the seller and contact Etsy about the problem.
What did I find out? Etsy is selling thousands of stolen photos and doesn’t seem to care. Their system lets sellers hide their contact information, and Etsy will not disclose the identities of sellers stealing work even after being presented with clear evidence.
Etsy is, in essence, the new Silk Road for copyright infringement
Meet Kharma Lu
“Liilproducts,” better known as Kharma Lu, is the Etsy seller who decided my photo would make a nice mousepad (not all Etsy sellers have good taste). Her profile contains no contact information whatsoever. What’s even scarier is that she seems to be stealing thousands of photos from other photographers, and Etsy is letting her get away with it.
I wanted to identify Kharma’s contact details so I could bring my issue to her directly. Taking a quick glance at her profile, we can see that a) she’s been in business since May 30, 2014 (perhaps she earlier had an account that was closed) b) Liilproducts has made 98 sales and c) based on the positive feedback, she’s delivering the products.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find much else about Liilproducts or “Kharma Lu” on the Internet. It’s quite possible that both names are entirely fictitious. Having concluded my research in vain, I had no choice but to order the product and see if that would give me a hint. Perhaps the invoice or return address would reveal something.
A few days and $12.94 later, my beautiful new mousepad arrived in the mail. I was hoping an enclosed invoice would reveal the identity and address of the culprit, but one was not included. The return address of the package was a nondescript warehouse in California:
My next step in my quest for copyright nirvana was to contact Etsy. I sent both a DMCA takedown request (which Etsy complied with) and a separate message to Etsy about the situation. I made sure to provide a copy of the photo source as well as a copyright registration certificate so that Etsy could be sure I am the rights owner. Maybe they would be able to identify the name and address of the seller?
My first email:
Hi Jessica,Thanks for your message. As stated in my DMCA notice, I’d like to know the name and contact information of the seller. The sample I ordered contained no invoice and the return address is some warehouse in California with no apparent ties to the seller. I can only assume that any entity acting in good faith would be more than willing to provide this basic information to a customer.Best regards,Daniel Foster
My response to Danny:
Hi Danny,I’ve provided a valid copyright registration and proof of an actionable harm. I can only assume that Etsy wishes to assume liability for the infringement if it will not disclose the seller’s contact information.Best regards,Daniel Foster
Hello Daniel,Thanks for getting back to me. Etsy will comply with a proper formal legal request. If you have further questions, you may wish to speak with an expert, such as an attorney.Regards,
LiilProducts’ shop is still active, even after I reported the copyright infringement to Etsy. Kharma Lu appears to have gotten away scot-free thanks to Etsy’s protection. This just isn’t right.
Etsy has created a system where copyright infringement is almost encouraged. Kharma Lu has not had her account shut down and has not suffered any ill effects for printing and selling my photo without permission. Who knows how many other sellers are doing the same thing? Is Etsy now the Silk Road?
It’s time to clean up your act, Etsy. You can’t let your sellers steal from other artists and get away with it. At least have the decency to shut down seller accounts when the law is broken.
Recommended reading: Attorney Steve Schlackman has a great post detailing how many other artists have had problems with copyright infringement at Etsy. Etsy has created amazing opportunities for artists around the world, but they’ve also created easy opportunities for artists to be screwed over.
Curious about where your work is being used online? Track it for free with PIXSY.
Addendum: Several attorneys on Reddit have mentioned that a subpoena can cost as little as several hundred dollars. Rather than editing the original text I decided to make a note of this information here. This is good news, but still, an unreasonably difficult obstacle to surmount in my opinion.