Amazon’s total disrespect for artist’s rights!

amazon_co_ukIt’s one thing having the general public think that artists just sit around all day doing nothing, but to have a major corporation like Amazon assume creative people have so much time on their hands, as to be able to waste days chasing a single item illegally placed on their selling portal, that the artist has every legal right to ask to be removed, is a complete kick in the face, and an insult to artist around the world, and to the actual law that was instigated some 306 years ago to protect them from such misuses. Well, this is not a work of fiction, nor a minor ditty to tell in a pub, over a few pints. This is a story that is being told by many an artist around the world, and on a constant basis. If a rally cry could be shouted it would be; “Wake up Amazon, Wake up Ebay! Understand the law. Copyright law!” Read on and see if you think there is something amiss here.

So it all started as always, lately, with my weekly check on amazon.com/amazon.co.uk for possible infringements. This takes the shape in many instances as a person guising themselves as an official seller. In my case they use Society6 as their disguise. This is the post I found:

amazon

Now, as Amazon is an open platform selling portal, they simply don’t check or curate the items being added. I guess this has two points of reasoning; they must get a hell of a lot of uploads a day, and why would they want to avoid selling something that made them money. So, as they are a US registered company and their server (even though the co.uk version) is actually hosted on the Amazon AWS server in the USA. So, based on this and the fact that US and EU have signed up for the acceptance of DMCA based enforcement of infringement request through the DMCA, they are obliged to set up a record of all official complaints and log them, as the law requires. More about the humour involved in even thinking of this statement. Anyway, they are one of the nicer online services who have set up a special online takedown form; you can find it here! For months and months I try to figure out the ‘logic’ algorithm involved in this form, until one day I stopped and realised “there is no logic”. Why? Because the forms are not processed by machines, but humans. And without knowing their policy or procedure it tends to come to mind that they either do lottery, throw darts at these claims or process them on a good day/bad day principle. I will show you why this is the case later. Anyway, if you do want to use this form and keep your fingers crossed, I wrote an interesting article about the best approach. You can find that here!

Before I go on further with this story of humour and despair, I want to point out (years of experience at this), why this is an infringement, just simply looking at the item page! In reference (see below), there is an official Society6 item that is sold on Amazon that shows different traits. Both images show official preview images of my products. Both items have Society6 listed on the item title. So, you would think they are both legit. However, underneath the illegal/counterfeit one you will see by “whomever” instead of Society6. You will also notice a lack of product details and pricing. Only “Available from these sellers“. These are all strong clues, but also, as I am a seller on Society6, I know that there has been no retail/wholesale purchase of these items, as I would be sitting pretty with the commission.

amazon

Clicking on the “these sellers” link, it revealed that a person/thief called “CAMERON RUSSELL THOMAS JAMES” was the seller. Further probing found that this seller was living in Taiwan. Odd name for a Pacific Rim resident, but not unfeasible. However, I allowed my dark side to guide me in thinking that was a fake anonymity name being used to sell these counterfeits. So, I sent a DMCA takedown to the Amazon copyright office, using this form. Some days later, I received a polite email stating that I had sent it to the US office instead of the UK office. At this point the email continued to explain that I can send PDF takedowns directly to Amazon office about the work, and gave me a list of all the office emails I can use. In their reply all they additionally added was the form/email took this form:

You may also submit a form by fax or email using the form below:

I, [INSERT FULL NAME AND TITLE] of [COMPANY NAME, IF APPLICABLE], state as follows:

(1) Contact information:

(a) Your and/or your company’s name, address, telephone number and contact e-mail address;

(b) The contact e-mail address and/or name which we will provide to Third Party Sellers (if relevant) so they may contact you to resolve any issues regarding your notification to us. If you do not provide a separate contact e-mail, you authorize us to use the contact information you provide in (1)(a).

(2) Listing’s ASIN (or ISBN-13 if applicable) and Allegation of Infringed Right:

(a) The listing’s ASIN/ISBN-13 number or detailed description of where the information that you claim is infringing your rights is located on the site; if regarding a Third Party Seller listing please also provide the name of used to identify the Seller on the site (look for “dispatched and sold by _____” or “by ______” in the listing).

(b) A description of your intellectual property right(s) that you claim has/have been infringed (e.g. copyright, trademark or patent) by the information of/for this ASIN/ISBN-13.
[REPEAT (2)(a-b) as necessary for multiple items, see example Notice Form here.]

(3) Include the following statement: “I have a good faith belief that the portion of the listing(s) described above violate(s) the intellectual property rights owned by the intellectual property owner or its agent, nor is such use otherwise permissible under law.”

(4) Include the following statement: “I represent, under penalty of perjury, that the information in this notification is true and correct and that I am the intellectual property owner or authorised to act on behalf of the intellectual property owner for the rights described above.”

(5) Sign the Notice Form.

So, I created a new form that was exactly compatible to their requests and set it to send to the appropriate Amazon office. That form is here! I filled in all the details and sent it off. Now, being British myself, I was hoping that there would be a little decorum in the response and an instant takedown. As the actual item is infringing my statutory rights under the DMCA for removal of artworks that infringe on my inherent IPR. No such luck!

Everything started becoming a chore after the receipt of that email from the USA division of Amazon. I sent the form off and, unlike their online form, didn’t receive a notification email saying that a claim had been received. Two days went by and I was curious to see if they had in fact received the claim, as the item was still online. At this point I received a reply which included the standard copy/paste action that they send more often than not:

Based on the information you provided in your intellectual property rights infringement complaint, we are unable to remove the listings you noted from these detail pages:

This resulted in me rewriting the reply to the Uk copyright office of Amazon, stating that they were not entitled to sell items with my work as it infringes my IP rights. Again, this resulted in a lack of response until two days later when another email comes through, and I received this reply:

Hello,

Amazon respects the intellectual property rights of others and requires third party sellers listing offers on our site do the same. Unfortunately, we are unable to process your request because this information was missing from your complaint along with the items.

Please re-submit your complaint using this form:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/reports/infringement

Thank you for your interest in Amazon.

Regards,

Seller Performance Team
Amazon Services

At this point I was starting to get the idea that this was going to be a runaround. Standard copy/paste arguments that have no foundation in actual law, nor give detail to reasons for their refusal. So, at this point I decided to write a long, firm and precise email about the issues with Amazon, and requesting a formal complaint about the department that was processing these takedowns. I won’t paste the letter here, but here is a link to the pdf version. This is where things got a little bizarre! Again, no confirmation of receipt of the email, but then came a strange email from the customer services department of Amazon.co.uk:

Hello Rob,

Your email was received by Amazon Customer Services. The requests you make in you email cannot be action by customer services, nor can they be forwarded.

I can advise however that the following is the only way to report copyright violation, if you believe that your intellectual property is being violated by an item or information on the Amazon.co.uk site, please fill out the Notice Form at this link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/reports/infringement

I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Now, I was flattened by this email. I mean, it must have took me 5 minutes to compose myself after falling to the floor! It was like everything I had said in the email had been totally disregarded, ignored or not even processed. Plus the silly typos “…cannot be actioned by…” is probably the correct expression. So, is this the typical copy/paste reply to stop people actually trying to get justice? Justice I might point out is actually law and international law, that protects (or should protect) artists since 1709!!! It seems not the case. It seems that, and maybe I am wrong here, but these big companies just know that small time artists just can’t afford to take legal action against them. Know that the data protection act prevents us from finding out who these thieves are (unless a large sum of money is given for an subpoena to disclose this info) because they hide behind anonymity. And know that the copyright law is the most ineffective law in the new light of internet use and manipulation. I didn’t want to stop there, so instead of sending pointless emails I thought I would call Amazon UK.

The first thing they say on their customer service phone line is “You could be charged for this call. Do you want to continue?” Now, please, mega billion super international company can’t have a free customer service line. Hats off though, they do offer to call you back if you leave a message (but no guarantee, I am sure). I stuck in there and waited for my assistant. Anyway, he popped in, and for privacy reasons won’t declare his name. I got the impression it was a call centre in India I was put through to, but am not totally sure. So, the proceeding 15 minute conversation asked if I could find the necessary department or phone number or email I could send an official complaint to, about the department handling takedown claims. Several times the assistant asked me to clarify the complaint. Like it was not on the script they are given to handle complaints (again speculative). Several times also, he asked to wait while he checked. All resulting in the fact that he could not give details of any contact other than that of the head office, which I have to write a formal snail mail letter to, and wait over 14 days for a reaction. Even though, as you see in the original reply below, they allow email communication:

Hello Robert,

My name is Zakir. I’ve picked up your e-mail today and I’ll do my very best to help you with your query.

Further to your email I understand that you want us to send you the contact details of the department handling the DMCA complaints.

Unfortunately I regret to inform you that at present we don’t have any details to give you.

In this case if you still want to contact our Head Office about this, please use the address below:

Amazon.co.uk,
Customer Services,
60 Holborn Viaduct
London
EC1A 2FD
United Kingdom.

Please make sure to include your e-mail address in your letter and be aware that it may take 10-14 days to reply to queries sent by traditional post.

Alternatively, you could send your letter, as an attachment to an e-mail, to the following e-mail address:

customer-atta[email protected]

I’m sorry, I couldn’t have been of more help in this situation. I hope you understand my limitations.

We look forward to seeing you again soon.

So, at this point I was getting livid. I asked if the call was being recorded. He claimed at ALL calls are recorded, even though the message at the start states “some” message might be recorded for training, blar, blar. I asked if I can have a copy, as I believed that under the data protection act I am legally allowed to have a copy of any digital or written communication which involves myself as one of the parties. They came back to me stating this could not happen, but I could request selected parts of the conversation in transcript version, through some long winded legal process. Anyway, I thanked him and said I would write (which I am now doing…wait for part 2 of this story), and put the phone down. After a cup of tea and a ‘letting off steam’ session, I though that was it and I collated all the necessary information needed to send the letter.

That afternoon I received another email out of the blue, which stated:

Hello,

Based on the information you provided in your intellectual property rights infringement complaint, we are unable to remove the listings you noted from these detail pages:

ASIN: B00Z994XE6
Title:  Society6 – To Bee Or Not Too Bee iPhone & iPod Case by Rob Snow
Complaint ID: 21217256356

Amazon respects a manufacturer’s right to enter into exclusive distribution agreements for its products. However, as the enforcement of these agreements is a matter of contract between the manufacturer and the distributors, it would not be appropriate for Amazon to assist in enforcing these agreements.

If you believe that your rights over parallel imports are being infringed, please re-submit your complaint under those grounds.

Amazon cannot comment on the validity of any legal rights you may have, nor provide legal advice. However, if you believe the complaint is unjustified, you may wish to seek independent legal advice.

We emphasize that this response is with no admission of any liability and without prejudice to any rights, remedies or defences to which we may be entitled, all of which are expressly reserved.

Thank you for your interest in Amazon.

Regards,

Seller Performance Team
Amazon Services

I was confused as I thought this had been stated some time back. I cross checked and I found I stated that the claim was for copyright abuse. And this was their reply. I replied again with this:

I need the names of the manufacturer and the Distributor so I can take legal action against them then.
If you can tell me this data, then I can enforce the copyright laws, you obvious disregard.

Thanks
Rob Snow
the artist and legal rights holder of the artwork being STOLEN

And in less than two hours I received this email in reply:

Hello,

Amazon respects the intellectual property of others and requires that sellers posting on our site do the same. Based on the information in your intellectual property rights infringement complaint, we have removed these items from our site:

CAMERON RUSSELL THOMAS JAMES
B00Z994XE6 for Society6 – To Bee Or Not Too Bee iPhone & iPod Case by Rob Snow

For the fastest service, please use our online form to submit any future reports of infringement:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/reports/infringement

We emphasise that the action taken is with absolutely no admission as to liability by Amazon and without prejudice to any rights, remedies or defences to which Amazon or its affiliates may be entitled, all of which are expressly reserved.

Thank you for your interest in Amazon.

Regards,

Seller Performance Team
Amazon Services

So, what is this all about? Firstly, with only getting half a picture in many cases regarding copyright infringement with big online stores, it’s only speculative, however there is a great feeling that these stores do not give a care for artists and their inherent rights to complain about counterfeiters stealing their work. They care more about making the money off these thieves than giving justice to artists that spend a great deal of wasted time in a process that is not required. The law is there and is correct and firm. The inherent right holder is in their rights to request the removal of works that infringe on their inherent copyrights. Amazon seems to forget this. Amazon seems to think that their process of collecting the complaints is enough to satisfy the DMCA, and only arbitrarily grant some justice to the countless complaints they receive. My case mentioned above is evident of the fact that their process is not strict or compliant to any specific legislation or rules, but is a seeming facade to make them look like the good guys.
Someone even said to me and it’s true. Amazon seem to care more about lost packages and damaged goods than artists rights! Try it, call them and say your package didn’t arrive. They will be so humble and helpful. Anyway, as I stated a letter is on the way, and this story I feel has only just started. If you feel in the mood to see how common this issue is, read this article by Daniel Foster, or read more about Amazon, here!

It should be pointed out that I was also allowed to put a review on the piece, without any problems.
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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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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • leahg says:

    I thank you for this insightful article highlighting the merrygoround we are all on trying to get Amazon to comply with the law. Typical big boys sticking two fingers up at the rest of us. I hope that with the wave of anger currently being directed at Amazon for their lack of conscience re this that at some point they take note. A technical person has been trying to educate me as to how Amazon can prevent stolen images showing on their site. It was baffling but apparently doable. Anyway, keep up the good fight!

  • Amazon a Safe Harbor for ART THIEVES – what can we do about it? | Trending Now says:

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  • Patrick C says:

    Having worked at Amazon as well as been involved with them as a seller I can tell you that many of the responses you received are more about company structure (incompetence) than any inherent greed or malice. If you go through the right hoops Amazon, like most companies, can be very efficacious, however if you don’t they are a freaking nightmare to deal with, typically because you get shunted off into a path where nobody has the power to do anything or knows anybody who does. Amazon cares about your lost packages because junior employees have a script for that. On the other hand, Amazon puts it 100% on you to PROVE copyright infringement.
    Now in regards to your complaint, they get several hundred complaints a day about copyright infringement that either is protected under the doctrine of first sale, or they have bought them legitimately in good faith from the manufacturer which, under U.S. law, allows them to resell the product. As a result, what you usually will hear is that they didn’t make the goods, you didn’t prove bad faith in the seller, so they aren’t going to do anything. This is defiantly frustrating for the infringed but from a legal perspective the safest choice, as companies and individuals have the legal right to dispose of goods acquired in good faith. (Quality King has an extensive case history defending this, reference https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality_King_Distributors_Inc.,_v._L%27anza_Research_International_Inc. )
    You may or may not have a legitimate case against the manufacturer. In many cases the manufacture has the right to use artist which is incidental to the product after it has been supplied by the creator of that art for the further production of product. Amazon has neither the time nor inclination to investigate the facts behind that, so they usually choose not to get involved.
    Even world class brands have experienced this problem; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-sellers-idUSBRE89M1CT20121023, but are experiencing the same issue as you; it’s very difficult to prove that the goods are not sourced legitimately, and the presumption of innocence favors the rights of the seller.
    To your point about the DMCA, it only protects digital intellectual property, specifically this would be pictures, written content, literature, movies, music and software. It in no way provides protection for artwork which is used on physical goods sold through a digital medium. If bootleg products are being manufactured you DO have a valid legal complaint (against the manufacturer), but you DO NOT have a valid legal complaint enforceable under DMCA. The DMCA complaint form exists to address complaints where sellers are using the copy or pictures of existing sellers to create their own listings. As far as I know there is no other use case for a valid DMCA complaint at Amazon.
    I’m not defending them, I actually left the company because it was my sole recourse over a policy dispute that I was having with them (I’d love to vent about that but this isn’t the proper forum), but, under U.S. law, Amazon not only doesn’t have to do anything, they usually won’t and it doesn’t matter if you can or can’t sue them, because the law isn’t on your side. The take down was ultimately a policy decision, not a legal one.

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