The Copycat Chronicles - Part 1. The definitive guide to getting illegal copies or counterfeits of your work removed from AliExpress.com
Are you tired of seeing copies of your designs or photos pop up on platforms like Amazon, eBay, Etsy, in shops hosted by Shopify, Instagram and Pinterest? Or counterfeited outright and sold as your product? It turns out, a lot of those copies are coming directly from sellers on Aliexpress.com who have lifted your designs (and quite often, your photos) in order to wholesale your ideas, for next to nothing.
In my commitment to taking down copycats and counterfeiters across the internet, I am writing this post to help other designers who know the crushing feeling of being copied, and the awful consequences it can have on your brand. When you ignore copycats, you don’t benefit anyone but the copycat. When you address the issue, you not only tell them it’s wrong, you also help others who have been copied. (Most of the platforms do take copies seriously- although I have yet to go through the process of removing copies from eBay and Amazon in other countries, but I will definitely write about that when I do!) Look for upcoming blog posts relating to removing copies from other platforms. It’s easier than you think! Most often than not, these sellers will get dinged by the platform, and multiple violations will result in their closure. Double victory!
Why do all this work? Why take all the valuable time to report copycats, when you could be creating new work? Why not just let them get away with stealing your blood, sweat and tears? Your originality, your creativity, or your identify as a brand?
- You are telling the copycats it’s OK to steal
- You aren’t helping yourself, or any other artists by ignoring the situation
- Your brand is getting diluted, sometimes beyond repair
Addressing that last issue – there have been some companies whose work is stolen and sold on Amazon. The customer is confused because it is sold under that brand name. How Amazon can allow this, is beyond me. Someone is currently using my brand name there to sell really crappy copies of OTHER people's work under the name Xenotees - oh, the irony! Amazon will do nothing about that part until my trademark is complete... Anyway, I digress. Those customers are going to the ACTUAL brand listings, and leaving negative reviews because they received an inferior product. Negative reviews on Amazon are more damaging than practically any other platform and they (from what research I’ve done) are pretty much impossible to get removed. At least on Etsy you have to be a verified buyer to leave a review! Amazon, um, no, anything goes. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense... If you'd like to learn more about this topic, I encourage you to read interviews with Susie Ghahremani (of BoyGirlParty), and her fight to end the unauthorized copies of her work on Buzzfeed and NPR's Here and Now. (Thank you for all your hard work Susie G.! You are a hero for us all!)
Back to Aliexpress---
At first this may seem fairly daunting, but if you get copies taken down there, you are essentially cutting off ALL of the Hydra's heads at once, in many cases. Aliexpress sellers are usually the ones directly supplying people with counterfeit copies of your work. Again, I will also provide links and instructions for dealing with copycats on Etsy, Amazon, Pinterest, Instagram and Shopify stores in future posts. I have been successful in getting copies removed from all of these platforms, but it is an ongoing battle, unfortunately.
You have to register with their platform and provide proof of your original designs. It’s obviously helpful and easier (in a way) if you have an actual copyright number. If you can't provide a copyright registration number, do not fret! They have a form (I will provide later) you can fill out verifying your ownership. Both methods work! I've done it!
First, you must "Create a New IP Protection Platform Account". This requires a scan of your passport and other personal / business information. I can’t remember how long it took- maybe a few days to a week? Anyway, once you get that done, you are on to the next step...
NOTE: While you are waiting for your registration to be approved, you could make a short list of your most copied product or product, or photos- whichever you need to have removed. You can also search on Aliexpress.com to get a feel for what has been stolen. Make sure to look in secondary photos if it’s a photo that has been stolen and manipulated to have a design other than your own. (This happened to me with my infamous Pizza dad/baby photo, thanks to a disreputable seller who stole the image first, and manipulated to appear that their “design” was printed on the tees (I use design in quotation marks because they are just producing the same basic designs so many others are doing, like copy/paste). Pixy is also another avenue you can use to find copies of your photos. It is quite effective! I haven’t paid for any of their take-down services, but they do provide some.
Once you are registered with Alibaba, you can log in to your account and start uploading proof of your original material.
As mentioned previously, you do not need to have a registered copyright (although you should, and they are only $35 each). You can fill out an affidavit form. Save it as a PDF file before you upload it to the website. (I simply named my files by what they represented as my intellectual property.)
Registered copyright holders, here's your IPR submission screen:
Non-registered copyright holders, here's your IPR screen shot. You can see on the bottom where you have to upload your additional pdf affidavit previously mentioned:
Now you have to wait again (they really don’t want to make this easy or FAST to deal with, but it is worth the perseverance. Trust me!)
Once your designs and/or photos are approved, you can then start submitting complaints of copies you have found on AliExpress. If you have one design that is copied a multitude of times by different sellers, they do allow for bulk reporting, which is basically providing links to each copycat. You will need to click on "Submit a complaint" on the left of your accoutn screen, which will take you to the next page where you can choose "AliExpress".
When you get to the submission page, the Google translator tool is essential to decipher the process. There will be a dropdown menu from which you can choose your approved copyright submissions.
When you paste in a link, for some reason it formats better if you click the link (in the submission box). This may not be the same for you. Once you submit your complaint(s), it usually only takes 1-3 days for the offending listing(s) to be removed.
Best of luck! Please comment with any questions, success stories, or points that need clarifying in my post!