The Curious Case Of Amazon Counterfeiters

As Amazon ramps up for its second annual Prime Day sale on Tuesday, July 12th, I feel the need to express my feelings about this company that is turning huge profits and stands to rake in even more money built around the highly anticipated Amazon Prime Day 2016 event.

I’m angry.

Before I go further, let me tell you that I used to love Amazon. I still have the index card where I jotted down my login information when I first became a member at Amazon.com and my join date is November 28, 1999. Yes, I was shopping on Amazon when all they sold was books and Y2K had not happened yet. Or not NOT happened yet, as it turned out. My point being that I have been a loyal customer of Amazon’s for 17 years, but right now the relationship feels like a best friend who has betrayed me. It feels like the company has set aside it’s morals and ethics in favor of skirting the legal line in order to advance profits.

I’m so distraught that I suggest you read this article about artists and our stolen work on Amazon from May of this year. It will make more sense than I can in my current state.

Designers of custom T-shirts, iPhone cases and pillow covers who sell their work through websites like Zazzle and Society6 are seeing copies of their products pop up at an alarming rate on Amazon.

The sellers, often hawking the items for a fraction of the price of the originals, range from fraudsters trying to make a quick buck to apparent bots scraping listings from other commerce sites.

In going through the formal take-down request process that Amazon requires, online merchants are not only wasting precious hours, but they’re seeing the number of fakes multiply.        |

And Amazon doesn’t make reporting and removing the infringements easy for artists. Even when Zazzle.com worked with Amazon to provide a specialized version of the standard DMCA take down notice for Zazzle designers sent to a special email address, Amazon often replied with obfuscations and delaying tactics. “Use our online form” or “you need to provide better links” and “we apologize but you need to log into your seller account first.”

It’s not just chasing down the actual third party sellers, it’s chasing the emails from Amazon.  Even when it goes smoothly and I receive the proper response “this item is removed/will be removed” sometimes it isn’t really gone from the site. Sometimes I have to wait 3 to 5 days, per the email. Sometimes the ASIN number is no longer searchable while the product page link is still live and accessible to the public. So I have to send another email. And another. Until the item is finally removed via all possible links… and then the seller lists the item for sale again. I suppose the seller thinks we stop looking after an item has been removed, so we will never notice that it’s out there again. This last month, I think I have spent a good one quarter to one third of my work time on counterfeit goods using my artwork on Amazon.com. I don’t get paid for that time. It’s lost in the wind.

One of my fellow artists came up with an awesome list of suggestions that would help Amazon help us and possibly reinstate their good name among the art world.

1. Be quick and THOROUGH in removing infringing content. That means removing the listing, DELETING it along with the IMAGE(S) from their catalog and servers.
2. Train EVERYONE working in that department so that people stop getting strange denial emails requiring reports to be done all over.
3. CLOSE INFRINGING ACCOUNTS. There are TONS of accounts that have been up there for a year or more and they are FILLED with Zazzle images. They have been reported by 10+ people and yet they are still in business. That’s red flag knowledge!
4. Come up with some sort of image recognition so that images that have already been removed are automatically DENIED when someone tries to re-list them.
5. Screen sellers.

One of the theories floating around is that Amazon does not want to close down and ban third party sellers who deal in counterfeit goods and copyright infringement or even take simple steps to screen them better because of profits. Take a look at Selling at Amazon.com Fees And Pricing.

Here’s how it works:

Item price
+ Shipping charges paid by the buyer
+ Gift wrap charges paid by the buyer
– Referral fee (calculated on the item price and any gift wrap charges paid by the buyer)
– Variable closing fee
– $0.99 per item fee (waived for sellers who pay a subscription fee)
————————————-
= Total deposited to seller account

It’s right there on Amazon.com’s Help: Fees & Pricing page. Amazon collects fees for every item sold by a third party seller. That’s revenue.

You figure it out.

Here is an interesting follow up article from this month about how the Chinese counterfeiting problem is growing. Fake merchandise is taking over the Amazon.com site at the expense of the little guys. Buyer beware.

It’s gotten so bad that I’ve added a section to my website that catalogs the items I have found so far on Amazon that are using my artwork and designs without my knowledge, authorization or fair payment. See, I include my website url within most of my designs. I am afraid that someone is going to purchase a ripped off pillow or tee shirt and follow that url so they can read ME the riot act about the low quality merchandise they received and how can I live with myself. I want everyone to know straight up that they did not buy bad stuff from me, they bought counterfeit goods from an Amazon “sanctioned seller”. I hear that Amazon might give you a refund if you can prove it’s a fake. Use my catalog and get your money back. Then go to My Zazzle Store and buy the real thing. You’ll be ever so much happier and so will I.

Even after all that, I am still hopeful that Amazon can turn things around and once again be the solid and honest company that I loved. I’m an optimist, and we like our glasses half full.

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