I've been a member of the Etsy community since May of 2007. I guess I'm a bit naive when I think that anyone coming to visit my Etsy shop or the shops of any of my virtual friends would have honorable intentions. Recently, a member of our pottery community on Etsy found out that one of her designs was bootlegged by a company in China. There's a website called alibaba.com that represents factories that will mass-produce just about anything. This fellow-potter was alerted that a listng identical to hers was showing up on alibaba.com. The manufacturer lifted her photo, and used her product description word for word. The company was offering to sell at high volumes to resellers. My first thought was who would buy that sort of quantity? The big-box discount retailers came to mind. I'm not going to mention any names, but they're the large chains that you see in just about every town. These stores serve a purpose because they offer low-cost items for the budget-conscious folks (myself included at times).
After the folks on our Pottery group started doing searches on alibaba.com, it was clear that this wasn't just a one-time thing. It appears that the companies have been lifting listings at a surprising number. For some, the listings were ones that had already been sold. For some, the backgrounds on the photos were changed and they inserted the manufacturer's watermark. But the original product image was apparent.
Things that we learned: by contacting alibaba.com the listings were eventually removed. Some folks were contacted by the manufacturers and told that they were just using the listing to show what they can do for their clients, that no sales were made, so basically no harm no foul. We also learned that it's important to save your original artwork photographs. These will have a date stamp that can be used to prove when the item was photographed and as a result, that you were the first to create the item. We also learned that there have been complaints on the website alibaba.com regarding delivery, and claims that the money was never received.
What this means to my customers: If you ever see a knock-off of one of my creations in a big-box store, check to see how it's made. Chances are it's slip-cast, not made by hand (even if it's marked handmade - the definition of handmade in China is different than ours). Chances are the glazes are not the same non-toxic quality glazes that I use. Chances are it's not unique - each of my handmade creations is unique, because I'm not a machine, I don't have a factory filled with low-wage artisans that pump out thousands and thousands of one item day after day. If you see a knock-off of any of my creations, send me an e-mail or give me a call. Once the knock-off copies make it into US stores, artists have recourse through the United States Copyright laws. Unfortunately, our Copyright laws are a dog with no bite in China.
It's sad when you think of the rich heritage China has - centuries of being inovators, now known more for their ability to copy other's creations.