On the night of September 12th, while my dinner was in the oven, I created two original designs for tee shirts that were inspired by Hillary Clinton’s “Basket Of Deplorables” remarks. Counterfeiters quickly stole them and began selling them via the Merch By Amazon program, where t-shirts are printed by and sold by Amazon.com. Amazon refuses to comply with my repeated DMCA notices; they must be making a fortune off of my designs and want the cash to continue to flow.
Hillary made her comment on Friday, I did a text only design on Saturday to sell in my Zazzle shop in blue font PROUD DEPLORABLE TRUMP SUPPORTER HAND ME MY BASKET and then Sunday was the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I typically spend that day watching the History Channel and remembering. Now it was Monday evening and I had forgotten to do something for my Redbubble store. With my hamburger drying out in the oven, I created two graphic designs using text only, which is rare for me. The first was DEPLORABLE AMERICAN and the second was DEPLORABLE VOTER GOD BLESS AMERICA, both in plain white for dark tees. At this point I had turned off the oven and my dinner was not only well done but also growing cold as I carefully tried out different fonts, spacing and layout to turn plain words into visually interesting designs. I cleaned up the edges of each letter, set the background to transparent and got them uploaded to Redbubble on shirts only. I was hungry so I slathered the cold, dry burger with extra ketchup and vowed to do the sticker and mug variations in the morning.
The two original shirts were picking up sales all day and I was very pleased. I got the new designs up in my Redbubble shop and called it a night. Wednesday morning showed me a massive amount of sales for the original shirts were rolling in. I spent the day creating new versions for my Zazzle store. I like to keep my designs exclusive to just one site so if I want to sell it in another shop I will change it up some. I used a faux gold background and masking techniques to create a faux metallic DEPLORABLE AMERICAN design for Zazzle. Since Zazzle’s platform allows for customer personalization, I added text to the men’s version so it read DEPLORABLE AMERICAN PATRIOT and on the ladies shirt, DEPLORABLE AMERICAN MOM. Then I used the same masking over faux silver for a fresh take on DEPLORABLE VOTER GOD BLESS AMERICA only this time I only used DEPLORABLE VOTER with God Bless America added as a text template so customers can change it if they wish. Finally I did a faux gold and silver version of TRUMP AND THE DEPLORABLES THE IRREDEEMABLE WORLD TOUR 2016 exclusively for my Zazzle store.
Friday, September 16th the shirt sales had slowed down a bit. I checked the Redbubble marketplace to see where I was ranking and was horrified to find three separate rip-offs of my DEPLORABLE VOTER GOD BLESS AMERICA design posted by other Bubblers. It was blatant copyright theft of my design image with identical fonts, spacing and layout. I filed DMCA notices for all three shirts with Redbubble’s copyright office and the shirts were immediately removed from the site. It was my first time dealing with the copyright folks at Redbubble and I cannot sing their praises enough. Since then I have found and reported eight infringements in the Redbubble marketplace and the RB team has promptly taken care of the matter.
But the shirt sales were still slowing. Now it could have been that the Basket of Deplorables frenzy was over in less than a week or perhaps it was simply market saturation. The second would make sense since when I first posted my designs on Monday the 12th there were only 20 or 40 designs coming up when I searched RB for “deplorable” and by Saturday morning it was 400 or 500 results. Then a horrifying thought came to me… AMAZON! If you are a regular visitor to my blog and website you know I have been fighting fake products and design theft on Amazon.com for the past year. It’s a struggle. But surely the Chinese counterfeiters hadn’t had the chance to scrape the web for Deplorable designs yet, had they?
So there I was on Saturday afternoon, with a pit in my stomach, searching Amazon.com for DEPLORABLE and scrolling through page after page of tee shirts. There were 131 pages and I got through 81 before stopping for dinner. I found five separate listings with my original DEPLORABLE AMERICAN design and eleven for the original DEPLORABLE VOTER GOD BLESS AMERICA design. My shirts list for $25.84 on Redbubble while some of the fakes on Amazon.com were listed at $11.99! No wonder my sales trickled to a halt if folks can get a counterfeit version on Amazon for 46% less. I took screen shots, copied ASIN numbers and page links and filed sixteen individual DMCA take down requests via email to Amazon’s copyright office and shut down the computer for the night.
Sunday morning my inbox showed two, just two, automated “we received your email we will be in touch” replies from Amazon. I was pretty angry about the multiple thefts of my designs but it was the weekend so I figured I would give them until Monday. So I checked the final pages 82 through now 136 then started work on the last of my Deplorable designs, this time in the form of a “family crest” because when ideas come into my head, the best thing to do is just let them run free.
A side note: It was around Sunday that I ventured over to the Merch By Amazon forum to read and get a feel for the atmosphere. A fellow designer has been very happy with his success since receiving an invitation to Merch By Amazon. When he again gleefully shared the number of shirts he sells daily at MBA while I was quietly lamenting the sudden slowdown of my successful Deplorable designs and how much money I was losing, I began to ponder submitting my information to Amazon to request an invitation to sell there. I know! But a girl’s gotta eat and you know what they say about keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Having an account at Merch By Amazon would be pretty close! No, I don’t really consider Amazon to be my enemy – I still shop there sometimes – but they sure are a tough opponent when it comes to copyright infringements on their site. Okay, why did I just tell you about this Merch pondering? Because one can learn a lot by reading and the information I picked up from Sunday onward about MBA proved extremely helpful regarding the sixteen infringements I reported.
Now it’s Monday morning September 19th, exactly one week since the original DEPLORABLE AMERICAN and DEPLORABLE VOTER GOD BLESS AMERICA designs were available on Redbubble. The shirt sales of both have slowed to barely a crawl. Amazon still hasn’t replied to the sixteen infringement reports but I’m fair, even when angry, so I give them the first day back in the office to sort things out. I worked on other things and read a little more over at the Merch By Amazon forum. I’m drinking it all in, weighing my options.
Tuesday morning arrives bright and early yet still nothing from Amazon’s copyright office. Like I said, they are a tough adversary but rarely do they full out ignore my notices like this. I send a Failure To Comply notice for each infringement, adding some rather strong CC’s. My anger made me add a little extra note in each email: “Exactly what do you do with the listing fees and percentage of sales fees you collect from third party sellers prior to items being removed for copyright infringement?” See, at this point I’m still working on the believe that these shirts are being sold by third party sellers, although the seller/brand names were particularly kooky and I’ve seen some off the wall Amazon seller names.
Wednesday morning – two auto-reply “thanks for emailing us” replies from Amazon, nothing else. What the heck? Why would they be ignoring me like this? It’s certainly not good for them. Complying with a DMCA notice is not a suggestion, it’s the law. Unless… Oh. My. God. I start Googling furiously.
I check the reported infringements. They all have the two visual identifiers, all of them include the identifying text at the bottom of the description, and all have crazy tag words where the third party seller/brand link is usually located. What I don’t see on the listing page is “ships from and sold by Amazon.com”. I try the Add To Cart button. Sorry, pick a size first. So I pick a size from the drop down menu. And there it is, just under the bright green availability blurb, Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.
I know this has been long but time to sit up and pay attention. Merch By Amazon is a print on demand entity of Amazon.com. Artists and designers are granted a membership account and can then upload designs to be sold BY Amazon and printed BY Amazon. Amazon collects the payment on each shirt sold and pays a COMMISSION to the membership account. There is no third party seller, there is no Chinese counterfeiter, this is Amazon.com acting as the manufacturer and seller of my intellectual property without my authorization, a license agreement or any payments to me for the use of my graphic design. Sure, a “membership account” uploaded the stolen designs to the Merch By Amazon platform, but MBA is acting as the sole agent for the sale of the design, and since there is no “third party seller” they have no safe harbor under the DMCA laws.
I know how well the shirts were selling for me before the copycats put them up for 50% less on MBA. Amazon must think that ignoring me while squeaking out a little more profit from the Basket Of Deplorables craze is a good business decision.
I’m so mad I could spit.
I made fresh screen shots, picking a size first, to show that the infringing items are DIRECTLY SOLD by Amazon. I then sent a third round of emails, the Second Failure To Comply notice, and I outlined what I had found and what I know. That it was Amazon.com itself that is profiting from the sale of these unauthorized copies of my DEPLORABLE AMERICAN and DEPLORABLE VOTER GOD BLESS AMERICA designs. I included an extra CC to the Merch By Amazon seller contact email.
What I got back on Thursday morning was sixteen separate emails “Thank you for your message. The items you identified below share a simple phrase with the items you list. Short phrases are not covered by copyright, nor are ideas. As these items do not share artwork we do not believe there is a copyright claim here.” Really? REALLY? Do I have to teach Amazon’s copyright team about graphic design and what a compilation work is? There was a glimmer of hope. I received one email from the MBA team with a case number in reference to the 7th VOTER shirt and that they were looking into it and another email from the copyright team referencing the 1st AMERICAN shirt that based on the information in my complain they were removing the item, with another case number.
I checked and DEPLORABLE AMERICAN shirt #1 had indeed been removed. Weirdly, DEPLORABLE VOTER GOD BLESS AMERICA #10 was also removed from Amazon.com even though I received no specific email or case number in reference to it, aside from the one where they said it was “a simple phrase”. So, ever hopeful, I sent 14 emails now referencing the copyright office case number, basically saying “oops, you missed this one.”
Just checked my email and I have ONE response for DEPLORABLE VOTER GOD BLESS AMERICA #11 where I got another “sorry, it’s a short phrase, no copyright violation here”. I’ve got to go. Time to educate Amazon’s copyright office on graphic design, compilation works and copyrights. Oh and hey, I trust your bookkeeping office is keeping excellent records of all the unauthorized and unlicensed sales of my designs by your company.