Copyright for designers
In the UK, copyright protection is granted automatically when you create something. This is stated clearly on the UK government website. There’s no need to pay to register it (although that is something you can do); the copyright of your designs and artwork is yours by right.
Through various agreements, this copyright extends to other countries, including China.
As a designer you’ll likely have a trail of evidence to prove the work is yours if you need to. Rough sketches aren’t dated, but they are evidence to show the design is your creation. Anything digital has a time-stamp – that includes working files on your PC, as well as any emails, tweets and Instagram posts.
In my case I also had orders from customers, documented and dated, from both my own online shop and Etsy, where there are also reviews from customers, with dates. There are articles about the Alpacalypse on third party blogs and magazines. Thanks to YouTube, I even have videos showing the T-shirts and hoodies on my booth at comic con, with publication dates. You can clearly see me wearing an Alpacalypse hoodie in a vlog from an alpaca show.
If you’re public about your work and active with self promotion – which you have to be, if you’re selling online or touting for work – you’ll likely have a whole digital trail behind you.
What to do if this happens to you
If you spot your work on a print-on-demand merchandise site, you can report it through the store. All the print-on-demand sites I dealt with had links or forms to report copyright infringement. Some even have “Report this” links on each product as standard, which is an indication of how common this issue is.
Reporting involves involves filling in forms and providing links as evidence to show that the design belongs to you. In most cases, a link to the product in my shop was sufficient. For AliExpress, the process was lengthy: I had to register with their online IP portal, which involved uploading a photo of my passport, then registering the design as my property, with proof and dates of when it was first created, published and sold. Once that’s approved, you can finally register a complaint against the counterfeit product.
To their credit, all the print-on-demand sites dealt with my complaints very quickly and efficiently. Most of the products were removed within a day, and after 48 hours there were none remaining.
However, the fact remains that filling in forms and getting proof together is a lengthy process. As a small business owner or freelancer, that’s time you don’t necessarily have. Larger brands and companies have whole legal departments to deal with these problems.
So now, do I have to search the internet periodically to check if any of my designs have been stolen? Is that something I have to add into my weekly to do list?
Print-on-demand sites and copyright
Print-on-demand sites are ideal platforms for anyone who wants to profit from stolen artwork. Users can upload as many designs as they wish, and wait for the orders to roll in. Unlike when you produce your own merchandise, there’s no upfront investment and no financial risk. Many of the sellers that had stolen my designs had shops filled with T-shirts in so many different styles that they must have been stolen from other people. Many of the designs were clearly clipart or cringe-worthy, cheap slogans, with very little care taken over them.
Obviously it’s not the fault of the print-on-demand portals, who sent me copy and paste apologies and disclaimers saying they’re not liable for the actions of their users. Anyone can register and upload any designs they like. They simply have to tick a box saying they hold the copyright – but if you’re the kind of person who steals art you’re probably not going to have scruples about lying on an online form.
Copyright infringement of indie designers is clearly an issue. Your work has to be online in order to promote yourself – we wouldn’t be able to get work or sell products if it wasn’t. Even if you watermark art you post online, Photoshop can do anything. It’s so easy to be a victim of design theft without even knowing.
All imagery in this story is courtesy of Amy Crabtree
Online reviews are a lot like bad relationships:
It’s either over-the-moon fantastic with rainbows and sparkly teeth. It’s also seeing someone’s complete rage in their eyes. Yeah, so it’s either great or terrible. No middle ground. Yeah, reviews on ecommerce sites are like that.
I think it was a genius PR ploy to have people just write glowing testimonials for free. I mean, crap, you just got copywriters for free, dude. Humans, being humans, found a way to game the system so completely that the main objective of having real people give feedback has been “Monetized” (not a word and I’m sticking to it). Neatly packaged in a simple — insanely simple — a rating of 1 – 5 stars.
The BBC has published an in-depth article (portions quoted below). What caught my interest is that the practice is so common that everyone admits it. We are, after all, simply “data points” that can be manipulated by “influencers.” Fuck. Where is my copy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when I need evidence?
From the BBC:
“You can’t win”
One company, in Bingley, West Yorkshire has decided not to use review websites such as TrustPilot or Feefo because of the risk of competing with fake reviews.
Helena Gerwitz, head of marketing at Feature Radiators, says: “We work in a really niche industry.
“When new websites pop up, they might suddenly have 200 or so reviews. That’s a lot of reviews since we know they have only been going since last month.”
She believes the volume of the high-rated reviews that some competitors have cannot be legitimate.
Ms. Gerwitz adds: “We have had chats about it – do we need to go down this route? – but my boss is very much ‘we don’t want to do that’. It’s unethical, it’s not true.
“We could set up a review account and know that we would do it legitimately but it would look bad as we wouldn’t pay people to put out reviews, so relative to the other sites we would look terrible.
“So we have decided not to do them but then people think there is something to hide. You can’t win. It’s really frustrating.”
‘Lose faith in online shopping’
Even verified reviews might not be all they seem. Some consumers fear their personal data might have been used by sellers to gather fake “verified reviews”.
Known as “brushing”, the scam sees sellers obtain people’s name and address to send the goods which they did not purchase.
On Amazon, this leaves a paper trail showing the goods had been bought on the site and had been delivered.
The seller then uses the individual’s details to set up a new account which it uses to post glowing reviews of its products.
Amazon says it is “investigating” complaints of “unsolicited packages” which would breach the company’s policy.
Architect Paul Bailey, from Billericay, in Essex believes he may have been targeted. Last month he received a number of unexpected “gifts”, including a key-ring, a phone case, a tattoo removal kit and a charcoal toothpaste set.
“I think when the first parcel arrived it was a case of bemusement, then I checked with my wife if she’d used my account to buy something.
“When the second item arrived later that day I thought it was perplexing but amusing. Then it became quite chilling.”
Mr. Bailey says he cannot be sure where online sellers have obtained his data but says it has “made me lose faith in online shopping.”
He added: “We all know there are laws in place over how data is handled but it’s made me very, very nervous to the point I’m going shopping back on the High Street – even though it tends to be more expensive.”
A spokesman for Amazon added: “We have confirmed the sellers involved did not receive names or shipping addresses from Amazon.
“We remove sellers in violation of our policies, withhold payments, and work with law enforcement to take appropriate action.”
The psychology of online reviews
Nathalie Nahai, the author of Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, says online reviews work because people try to take an “effortless route” when they have to make decisions.
“When it comes to purchasing, especially for items which are easy to buy, we expect this level of convenience and ease,” she says.
“Part of that expectation is met by peer reviews… we can outsource our decision-making.”
“Above a certain threshold, people will go for a slightly lower rating,” Ms. Nahai explains, citing a study where a product with more reviews but a 4.3 rating was more popular than the same product with fewer reviews and a 4.4.
Interestingly, she says there is “certain leniency we give to bad reviews”.
“We tend to distrust perfect ratings because it looks too good to be true,” she says. “A five-star rating is less worthy than a 4.8 or 4.7.”
It could also be the order of the reviews that matter.
Consumer psychologist Cathrine Jansson says some sellers might be aware of what is known as the primacy and recency effects. These theories state that people tend to remember the first and last items in a series better than those in the middle.
“It’s the first five or six reviews that people tend to read and then if they’re really interested they’ll scroll to the last one.
“So some sellers will make sure it’s really good reviews at the top and that people see a really good one last.”
There are, however, many reasons why people will also post genuine online reviews, says Nisa Bayindir, director of global insights at market research company GlobalWebIndex.
“There are other key motivations at play. For example, we know that consumers buy products and brands that preserve, enhance or extend their self-image.
“This dynamic comes alive with online reviews. People may leave genuine and positive reviews online to show appreciation and commitment to the brands that are in tune with their personalities and values.
“This, of course, includes the basics such as product quality, attentive customer services, and good value for money. ”
She says that brands should focus on “building credibility” but acknowledges that fake reviews may be around for cheaper goods for the foreseeable future.
She adds: “Sometimes people are just happy to pay a smaller amount of money for a mediocre experience.”