Friday, September 21, 2012

Fighting eBay for My Own Copyright

The last three weeks have provided a painful lesson in copyrights. I have been cleaning out some production over runs in the stamp shop by selling them off on eBay - with even cheaper prices on my rubber stamp website. And they sell there on eBay (Always do your research before buying there and check out your sellers... they probably offer the same item cheaper elsewhere!) which is fine. I charge enough there to pay my eBay fees and make a little more than I do on my site.

It all started last year when I got several large wholesale orders in a row from a studio in New York. I have a policy against selling my stamps below retail on eBay. It makes it hard for other retailers to compete and wholesale orders fall off and so do my retail ones. Much to my surprise, I started getting emails from customers finding my stamps there. I looked and found it was this customer in NY! And she was barely selling over wholesale, clearing trying to just cover her eBay fees and cost of the stamps! And... she was using my images and text from my project sheets!

I yelled, I emailed; we went back and forth. I couldn't afford to buy the stamps back from her only to have them sit here. At the time, my thinking was, let her sell them...she won't get any more! But I had no idea what that would do to the rights to my own images and text  further down the line!

Times being what they are and wholesale orders being non-existent and the fact that I have thousands of images made by the previous owner sitting here, I decided to sell them myself on eBay. Some money is better than none, right?

And then the trouble: 

Three weeks ago, I got a notice that two of my auctions were being pulled due to copyright violation. Wha???? I thought it was that I had copied the auction format from a customer of mine who had been sellign the same stamps on eBay against my wholesale policy... I checked and I had accidentally linked to her auctions. My bad... I fixed it and relisted the stamps.  And they got pulled again.

Each time I would call eBay and get the Trust and Safety Dept in the Philippines (although they are not allowed to tell you they are in the Philippines). I was told I was violating a copyright but given no information about what exactly I was doing wrong. I looked over the html file for my auctions and assumed that because I was linking to MY OWN website (I needed a web address of an image so that my customers can see the image while reading about it and not have to scroll up to see the pics... one of my pet peeves with eBay.). So, I moved the image to Picassa and relisted it... and again it was pulled.

I uploaded new images: one of the recipe stamped on a cookie and one straight from my catalog in black and white... and it got pulled again! I got Trust & Safety Philippines again. This time the idiot told me that since someone had used MY image on eBay before, I could not use it!???? That's like saying, "Since John Smith sold an iphone on eBay first, NO ONE can ever sell one again with a photo of an iphone!" The logic defies reason!
Our rubber is a food grade and can be used to stamp on pastry.

 Over two weeks in, I finally managed to be connected to Trust & Safety in Utah. Sweet Mother of God! America has tech support! There I finally got the truth.

"Someone" claimed I was using both their image and text.  I was certain this all led back to the customer in New York. But she had no product to sell... so WHO would make such a claim??? While Trust and Safety Utah would not tell me, I suspect it was a large auction hosting service who my customer uses to list her auctions. Regardless, they've made my last three weeks very difficult!

Because the text was also part of the complaint, no matter how many times I changed the photos, I had to change the text too. I pointed out that the text was stolen from me as well as the photo. One of the things the Philippine office had wanted me to do was to write eBay's VeRO to complain my image had been stolen... on an auction over a year old! What good will that do?

I pointed out I had changed the text more than 10%... which is the threshold for copyright law but that it was hard to change it more as we are talking about rubber stamping on cookies, a technique my company invented!  But to list a fall themed stamps, I would deleted the text. Fine! I relisted and took the steps to notify eBay of my legal claim to both the images and the text as advised by the Utah rep.

Fighting for my rights:

I sent eBay Trust & Safety Utah a lenthy fax to prove I was the owner of the images and text in question. It included:

  • The history of the image: who drew it and when, who wrote the recipe on it, who colored it (ME!) using what techniques. (Let the claimant to that image provide all that!)
  • HUGE scan files of the original image I colored in. Anyone with some photo experience knows you can't take a tiny file and make it bigger... it just won't work. The pixels aren't there! By giving them a huge image, they again would have something the claimant could not provide!
  • Bill of sale to the customer in NY, & her eBay user id.
  • A copy of the project sheet where she stole the text. 
While it took a few days, I won my case and my actions are finally up and running. And I'm spending way too much time water marking all the photos on my stamp site so this can never happen again. 

1 comment:

KatersAcres said...

I'm SO SORRY to hear this Holly. It has happened to me before too. Hugs to you sweetie. I'm glad it's finally over.