Alibaba and the one billion thieves!

By September 20, 2014Art, Copyright

It all started when I put pencil to paper. That was over 45 years ago. How is that connected to making waves with Alibaba? Well, that is the day I decided to make this incredible journey as an artist, part of my life. There has not been one day that I have not tried, struggled, succeeded, aimed for, failed, messed-up, improved at being an artist. Art is not a career, it is a way of life. Doing many of my lessons at school in the history of art (yes, they are important) I, at the time, didn’t see much importance at knowing about all these famous, but dead artists and their struggles, techniques and life stories. However, as I live a life as an artist I have been immersed into that understanding! I always site Van Gogh as my antipathy of what it is to be an artist. His struggle for understand, recognition, accompanied by his desire to create. This is not meaning that I feel that to be a great artists you need to suffer, cut your ear off and never sell anything. What I mean by this is that you simply have no fight away from that desire to create. Even when everything seems against you, you still wake up (as I have) and the first thing that seems to draw you to a waking state; with great addiction, is to pick up that pencil and make a mark. Now, the connections are building, and the one to Vincent is about sales.

Years down the line, my passion has bee combined with a need to make a living. Art is a great struggle at the best of times. You create to your desires and hope on hopes that someone out there likes your strokes and purchases it. However, in today’s world of technology, the process to create has been made easier for many (who may not be creative in traditional forms), and so the market becomes saturated. That in itself is a struggle, but on top of that is the fact that the placement of art (your art) onto the big world wide web has it’s dangers. The anonymity in the process of cyber theft. Now this is rife, and as this group wants to help develop, the aspects and realisation of it’s boundaries is fuzzy and grey at best. One area is the continued use of artwork in places such as social media that are commercially available, and having no accreditation nor payment to the artist that has taken hours to create this. Maybe for the sheer passion of it, but with an outlook to maybe making a living off it. There there is the other aspect; the real thieves. People who make efforts to scour the internet with one purpose to find artwork to lift and sell, for their own gain. With no remuneration going back to the original artist. This unfortunately is the way that many artists start their day these days, with a dread that someone is making money off their back. For that reason this poster was created (unfortunately I can’t find the original creator, nor link to this), which tends to sum it all up.



Now, as a matter of my own working practice I spend some time occasionally (I have to say occasionally, as this could be a full time job based on what I am going to say now), I scan the internet for possible infringements of my work. I have created a bookmark folder on my browser called ‘check’ so I have reference to these infringements so I can see if actions against them work. So, as my image collection increases, the problem of monitoring this process is becoming more extensive. Luckily, the process on the web has been additionally aided with help from sympathetic friends, who take time to notify me of possible infringements. But to be honest this is the tip of the iceberg. Many pieces of art can be taken and used away from the computer search systems. Which is a crying shame and terrible thought. I have heard stories of artists visiting China and walking through markets, to find a design of theirs on a t-shirt in a stall, unbeknown to them. Again, this is a Segway into the next connection: China. China is a closed door in so many respects. And unfortunately it holds a great deal of consumers in this hidden market. All of whom are looking for a cheap deal, and have little approach to looking or buying outside of their highly restrictive internet service. One option is to look at Alibaba. This is a Chinese equivalent of Amazon, and has a bigger target audience than Amazon. For this reason, yesterday (Friday 19th September, 2014) it decided to place itself (‘float’, as they call it) on the American Stock Market. This signifies two things. Firstly, it’s popularity in it’s target audience, to be in a position to get to such  lucrative state. And secondly, that the sellers on the site, are in a good position to use the platform to sell. and due to the reputation that seems to be emerging from the Chinese market; sell anything that is feasible, maybe not legal. So what I recently came to terms with was that ‘seemingly’ brick wall of China! This post is being written to possibly help others who may feel a need to approach the website for infringement cases. It’s not an easy route, but it did work for me, so I hope this helps.

The process by which I usually do my internet sweeps is relatively simply, and although not totally effective, has produced some results that have resulted in take-downs. This is the process by which I managed to get a result from Alibaba.

1) I was having a discussion in a Society6 group about copyright theft, and it was being discussed where do these thieves find their copies, to enable them to get print quality. The simple fact is, and I think this is indicative and not just about China, they don’t care about print quality. It is almost like these peddles of DVDs and video games on the street corners. For $1 are you going to go back and complain. And the sad truth as far as Government is concerned, is they actively support the idea of a black economy, stating that it actually helps booster people’s confidence in proper goods. The sad part of that is that the victims (the artists) are ripped off, and see no money for the crime committed! So, as part of this discussion, it was mentioned a great deal of ghosts accounts appearing on social sites. One in particular is on my Behance site (see image below). Where accounts are set up, with no image or details being recorded, and only the country of origin; most times being China.

Followers on Behance, predominately from China

Followers on Behance, predominately from China

Now, it must be pointed out that these maybe real artists and fans of my work, but I will add that these in the image are ones that are on my first page of followers, and so a pattern tends to emerge in the mind of a cautious artist, that do you trust these people. No projects, no appreciations of projects, and only saved items in collections, and all from countries noted for doing knock-off art products. Anyway, we carried the discussion on, and I mentioned the process I go through (explained below), and a commenter said that she had found one of mine on a Chinese site. I will explain the process now, and show how she found it and I didn’t.

2) I tend to use one of three tools; Google Image search, src-img and TinyEye (URLS respectively; Google, src-img and TinyEye). What they all do, even iff a little different, is what is called reverse image searching. this means you already have the image, instead of wanting to look for it, and it gives to traced versions of this image based on the latest image recognition software. I should point out that src-img is a plugin for browsers that links to Google Image Search. Anyway, even though Google is monstrously big, their ability to use the technology in an effective way is still limited. Note to any image protection company: There is a need to have a strong embedding code that is near impossible to removed from a tagged image, that can be easily and uniquely identified to a single artist’s reference number.

What happens with, say src-img, is that you can choose an image you’d like to search for. I like this one as you can do it on the fly, instead of having to upload the image, but saying that, TinyEye now has a contextual menu option so you can do the same there. However, this is what you see with src-img on my Behance page.

src-img by Jarred

src-img by Jarred

You get a choice of your images you want to search for. You click on the two question marks and a Google Image search takes place.



Luckily in this case (as it’s a new image), there are not that many results. However, it does highlight the slight inaccuracy of the system as you look at the collection of visually similar images!! When you do get a listing of several pages you can then trawl through the pages, looking at the URL’s specifically, to see if they are valid sites that you have posted to, or have allowed use of your artwork. This can get compounded, and takes time, but is an approach I have used and has resulted in some success. You can also do a search for text based strings; such as “title of artwork”, objects in the image, etc, and this can also lead to some results. At the end of the day, you need to be prepared to spend some time on this. The best principle I do, is taking what I feel is the most popular images first and working through. This is when I came across the piece in question. A piece I did in 2011 called “Pack the Trunk”. This was discovered on two Chinese sites; one of which being Alibaba. The other being this site, which I am still trying to get taken down.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 10.19.24The sad part of this is the artwork itself has been totally and disrespectfully mistreated. The colours are wrong and it has been distorted. Besides this, the offending sites, have them listed on products that have not been licensed by myself (the artist) and are in all tense and purpose, illegal. So, back to Alibaba. This is where the long month long process of take down began. Some of the following may not be morally correct, but I am an angry artists who really does get pissed at people stealing my work. So, I have created an image I broadcast on social media, to show the thieves work in question.


3) My first port of call was to the seller! At this point in time I was only aware of one infringement on Alibaba, but later, through due process discovered seven (yes, seven!) infringements on sold products on one site (AliExpress). I managed to discover the email of the seller (which turned out to be ‘fake’ and bounced every time) to which I sent two or three ‘cease and desist’ notices. See at bottom. I also added the same message to the online message system in the Seller’s store. This is more productive, as they receive the messages to the correct address, wanting sales. However it was limited to a minimum word count, so the ‘cease and desist wasn’t able to go on. However, I also did this several times a day. This was not hoping for a result, but to piss the seller off.

4) I also when on social media sites, like Facebook and found official (verified) pages and threads for Alibaba. There I simply made a repeat comment post, stating that Alibaba was an apt name as they supported art thieves! Again, wasn’t aimed at getting it took down, but hoping it would piss the Alibaba crew off, and get some awareness to the cause from casual supporters.

5) I then came across a link on the Mother site of Alibaba (remember the infringement was on AliExpress) for Copyright Infringements, but found it really hard to discover an email address, so I simply went onto the online Chat. Luckily they must understand your location, and both times I got English speaking representatives. Unfortunately I didn’t seem to get through to them, as it seemed they were reading from a script. Here is part of the transcript, which shows many of my questions were not answered and automated pleasantry was emitted.
Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 10.38.41

So, eventually, after much complaining, they did direct me to an official page. I should point this out at this stage, as I have an Alibaba account (was for a printing job I tried to do in China), that the legal department is not listed as an email anywhere, and there actual pages are not even affiliated to Alibaba. As you need a separate account to put a claim in motion. I say this as I was not told this until the fourth or fifth attempt at complaining that my login didn’t work.

6) Alibaba legal pages (find them here!) Once at the right place, which took two weeks of hassling, I found myself faced with this form.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 10.44.58

Now, I don’t want to complain about the web design and responsiveness to the webpage, but this is a difficult form to understand and I will actually go through it, to make it easy for you to understand. Be patient.

a) I don’t know if that warning text actually means anything outside of China, but don’t be too threatened by it. Most of this form and intention is assuming that its an infringement on a design (product) and not art. Seems they have little to no respect for art, and I had to ask a load of questions to get to understand how to fill this in.

b) I don’t know how this works in other countries, but I can definitely state that for European countries, there is no legal need to have a registered number or identification code for artworks. They do not need to be recorded at any special office, or whatsoever. I know this how? Because, unlike the site, which is very unhelpful, the office for copyright infringement for the UK was kind enough to advise me of the rights of EU members. So, if you do get contacted by anyone negating that, you can tell them this was an official statement from the British Government Copyright office.

c) So, the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) part of the form is misleading. It kind of gives you the idea you need an official number, and so does the blurb above, but no worries. As it is a required field you may seem perplexed, but simply (and I was advised on this), place N/A in the top field. As the other fields are required too, simply fill them in appropriately. Name of Artwork, your name, and then click on “copyright”. This may change parts of the form, but hopefully not what has gone before.

d) As for the country pop down, select the second option which lists “other territories”. And for the date “place the date that you first released the artwork (NOTE: this is important that you choose a date that you can verify, more later)

e) This is where everything gets a little technical now. You need to download the form and fill it in! I simply removed the “We” part and kept “I”. This is where you need to add a date of first release, which needs to be the same as the date above.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 11.00.23

Luckily for me, the Society6 system worked in my favour. This was the actual date I released the piece, and I tend to release it first on Society6. Now, Society6 doesn’t date stamp their uploads on public record. i.e: There is no visual evidence of it being uploaded at the date I stated. But, luckily, and this is good practice maybe for everyone, if this occurs on other sites that don’t date stamp the artwork upload, the commenting system does. So, luckily I was able to verify the date I uploaded as a person commented the day after and that was registered. As explained in the document. On this first upload section, you will also need to upload a version of the artwork. I uploaded the one above, so as not to give them anything useable. Again, the form doesn’t state this, and it took two days for someone to tell me this.

f) This is relatively easy, but I was cautious, as it requires your ID uploading. I did a low-res, but readable version of my photo page of my passport and uploaded the artwork again.

You then submit the form. And some days later they will inform you if the verification was successful.

7) The next stage is to verify your complaint by listing sited evidence of the pages where your infringement takes place. As the image shows I found several. You then submit this and wait.

Not full list!

Not full list!

8) Again, due to their unhelpful nature. I was not informed of the take down. I simply looked at the page on the day that Alibaba went public on the American Stock Exchange. Maybe a good reminder, and a connection. But a whole month after finding the thieves I was greeted with this on all the pages:

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 13.27.12


I was told by a Chinese client, working out of the US, that Alibaba don’t care about the small fry and it’s near impossible to get a result and I was wasting my time. However, I persisted and bugged the hell out of the system and got the result I was after. Now the things to consider here are, firstly, this has only stopped these thieves selling on Alibaba (which I guess is good as it’s the biggest in China and accounts for 80% of online sales, and is global) and not selling offline. It was a month of hard work for one piece of artwork and not all. It is worth it! I would recommend it and do as I have pointed out. As for other sites and perpetrators. Don’t be polite, and as a friend Anita Kunz showed in her claim on FB, if you simply state a use of a lawyer, many fold quickly. I have attached a ‘Cease and desist’ notice that you can alter and change , then send to any offenders. It is useful and has worked. Some do ignore, but mainly they come around. Don’t care about their feelings and harass them constantly. After all they are thieves!!! Hope this all helps!! Comments welcome…




I are writing to notify you that your unlawful copying of my work/intellectual property infringes upon my exclusive copyrights, as protected by law. As sole owner of the copyright/intellectual property rights on [name art piece and date], I have found you have infringed on these rights under International and US Copyright laws. As you have willingly infringed upon my protective rights you have the following actions; a) remove the piece in question immediately, and complete the request statement below, and send on an email or as an attached PDF, or b) forward the name and contact details of your solicitor/lawyer, who can provide evidence of your ownership and rights to use the works.

If you do not comply with this cease and desist demand within the time period of two days, [YOUR NAME] is entitled to use your failure to comply as evidence of “willful infringement” and seek monetary damages and equitable relief for your copyright infringement. In the event you fail to meet this demand, please be advised that [YOUR NAME] will contemplate pursuing all available legal remedies, including seeking monetary damages, injunctive relief, and an order that you pay court costs and attorney’s fees. Your liability and exposure under such legal action could be considerable.

If you fail to comply to either option above, I will have no choice but to contact the page owner/ISP where said infringement took place and have your work removed by them, and seek to notify all organisations involved in blacklisting image thieves as well as contacting any organisation that has protected artwork found on yours site.

Art is not free to use, regardless of if it is on the internet. If you would like to discuss a licensing agreement and avoid all this legal action, then please reply with such a request, otherwise you have two days to respond. I do recommend that you remove my work and sign the said form. Thanks for your understanding.



Copyright Infringement Settlement Agreement

I, ___________________, agree to immediately cease and desist copying [NAME OF COPYRIGHTED WORK] in exchange for [YOUR NAME] releasing any and all claims against me for copyright infringement. In the event this agreement is breached by me, [YOUR NAME] will be entitled to costs and attorney’s fees in any action brought to enforce this agreement and shall be free to pursue all rights that [YOUR NAME] had as of the date of this letter as if this letter had never been signed.





Artistic License

Author Artistic License

The head honcho at Artistic License that sets the code, follows the users and basically strives for the better justice in art theft on the internet. Any questions, email me.

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  • Alecia says:

    Many more rights-holders are coming forward representing thousands of more intellectual properties
    though the verification process for identifying ownership is long and detailed, and we
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