Ripped off & what we did about it

Leslie Yang - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Whoever first said "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," likely never had to deal with copyright infringement.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a friend with the subject line: "Stealing your design???" She'd taken a camera phone photo of some earrings at a local boutique. The design were complete COPIES of our dahlia and leaf designs.* I was livid!

A Google search didn't turn up the company name on the earring tag, but a second search showed that these copies had also turned up in a handful of Etsy shops. (A selection of our work is also on Etsy.) I began to suspect that an overseas manufacturer had stolen these designs and were selling them as their own. This would prove to be the case. A friend's online sleuthing led me to an Etsy supplier in Hong Kong that was selling both designs as painted and unpainted wood charms (for easy assembly as jewelry pieces) in a selection of colors:

My boyfriend quickly discovered Etsy's Copyright and Intellectual Policy. I followed the directions listed on the page and by that evening, I'd drafted my first take down notice for copyright infringement. I included links to listings of the Etsy supplier and the sellers who'd unwittingly bought our designs without knowing it. An IP attorney friend also proofed the notice. The next morning, I emailed the notice to Etsy Legal Department. Within hours, all listings were removed! Thank you, Etsy!!!

I was incredibly relieved. The next step was to make sure the Etsy supplier knew I was aware of their shops and that I'd be keeping an eye on them. I wrote them the following message:

As you must know by now, Etsy has removed listings of my copyrighted designs from your store, _________. I'll be checking your store and your sister store, _______, regularly to ensure that my designs do not appear in your shops again.

I can't prevent people or companies from buying our designs outside of Etsy, or outside the US, but I'll take this victory. I'm grateful to Etsy for their quick work and that I had a legal outlet to appeal to ensure the Etsy marketplace wouldn't allow for the continued selling of my copyrighted work. I also received some terrific guidance and support from SF Etsy Street Team.

As for the local store that was selling our designs, it turned out that they too had bought our designs from Etsy. They assured me of the swift removal of these items from their shop inventory.

From this point on, not much changes. I'm doing what I love, which is continuing to develop new, colorful, and fun pieces in the most ecologically responsible way possible. (Our new designs are due out any minute!) However, I also won't hesitate to defend my work in the legal arena.

A few days ago, it must've been fated that I'd flip open one of my favorite magazines, UPPERCASE, and read an article entitled, "Is Copying Ever Right?" by savvy retail strategist Rena Tom. It's a smart piece of writing that helps put our experience into perspective. I'll leave you with two quotes that really spoke to me:

"Unfortunately, many of those who want to participate in the global design/craft scene are taking shortcuts to get there. Ironically, the desire to be original leads to copying the work of others who are original."

"The best way to combat theft is to keep creating new, original work and staying ahead of the curve."

--Rena Tom, "Is Copying Ever Right?", UPPERCASE, Issue 12

*I sketch out and prototype all of our designs before they become our statement earrings, necklaces, and accessories. All designs are copyrighted.