Several weeks ago I came across a pillow (maybe on Pinterest?) from an artist I was vaguely familiar with. The link took me to Aliexpress.com, a companion site to Alibaba.com, which is a site that is both an e-commerce site and a way for businesses to pair up with manufacturers to produce their wares. Shortly before this discovery, I was hired by Copyright Collaborative to do a little freelance design investigating. I have to say, the opportunity was a dream come true since I've been looking into infringement in the digital age on my own for a few years anyway. Yeah, weird hobby, but interesting. Anyway, the pillows gave me the perfect opportunity to investigate!
Since the Aliexpress link said nothing about the artist, I did a reverse image search and ended up in an etsy shop full of pillows printed with unique art. So I started playing matchmaker, pairing up designs with artists. Here I am, 45+ artists later. When I make a match I contact the artist to see if their work was licensed. I still haven't heard back from all the artists about whether their designs are licensed, but have yet to hear one respond saying their design was reprinted legitimately.
In the meantime, I searched "linen cushion" on etsy and found a whopping 250 page result. Work is slow, so what's a bored secretary to do? Start filtering the results to separate the truly handmade pillows from the mass produced ones, then identifying the shops with stolen artwork. From there I created an excel spreadsheet of shops selling at least 1 confirmed unlicensed pillow design.
What did I find? There are at least 46 shops, those shops have sold about $30,000 worth of wares over several years time, making the fees for etsy from sales alone about $10,000. That doesn't include the listing fees for the pieces sold. It also doesn't include the listing fees or the 3.5% sales fee for the 7,634 items still for sale.
To be honest, that's not much money for a $700 million company. Why would it risk smearing it's "rooting for the little guys" image for a bunch of cheap pillow covers? I aired my speculation on twitter and the response was plausible: If etsy started worrying about one type of knock off they'd have to worry about the rest: phone covers, fashion logos, dollar store variety jewelry...If nothing else, it's worth thinking about.
Interested in seeing some examples? Hop on over to Copyright Collaborative and check out the effigies page. My intention in finding these knock offs isn't to discourage artists, but instead to help them reclaim their ownership of the designs.