Last night I was emailed once again by a fan about our product being copied. And for the zillionth time, it was on Alibaba.com which is a well known counterfeiting website. They might pretend it’s legit, but I’ve found most of the photos of products for sale there are just like mine, photos were stolen from another site and they pretend it’s their product. The companies are Chinese and Indian primarily if not exclusively. So these companies have never made the products and get orders for them. They take the money and try to make it. The web is filled with horror stories where unsuspecting Americans placed an order, waited months, and either got nothing, or got something that wasn’t as pictured.
So today I went through 1000s of Alibaba products and found about 14 of my photos in there. The process of reporting them is a pain in the ass. You have to upload the original untouched photo, along with 3 (count them THREE) “Titbits”. I had to look that up. Those are other photos you took of the product when you took the original. So I reported 2 of our crank tables. Even though they ask for the original photo, they don’t really want it as they only allow a 3mb photo.
So what is Alibaba? They are basically a portal kinda like Amazon. Sellers create a store which is searchable. Typically you have to buy multiples of this like 5 units. And right now they are under investigation by the SEC. This is because they reported revenue of 14 billion dollars on a single sales day. Rap your head around that one. And they are bigger than eBay and Amazon combined.
Alibaba’s attorney said some interesting things in an interview. He also quoted their chairman on the subject.
“It is in our interest to promote its growth in a fair way. Our chairman quite clearly stated earlier this year that he thinks counterfeiting is a cancer we will have to deal with or else it will destroy our system.”
“It makes absolutely no economic sense for us to allow intellectual property theft on our platform.”
I believe this sort of business is taught in their schools. I’ve heard that before. You work hard and rise to the top. One of the ways is to borrow your competitors idea. If you are making a product for an American in your Chinese factory, you start a business of selling the same product through your company. Of course you rebrand it. Or you copy the entire company!
UPDATE: Good news, I reported a company on Alibaba 3 weeks ago and their account was terminated! Bam!
So here is how you report somebody on Alibaba:
- Click on the Report Suspicious Activity link on the offending product page.
2. Click File A Complaint link if they stole your image.
3. Upload the original picture (under 3 mb) and 3 other photos of the product you took. Write something with the URL of the item and how they stole your copyrighted pictures.
4. Click Send. You will be emailed in a week or two that they are investigating it. The company has to produce proof that it is their product. And I believe if they can’t, they can get terminated like Kraft Tree did when I report them. I never got an email that the case was closed. So save the link to the offending product so you can check back. With some luck, that company will get deleted.
Now I have people telling me all the time not to worry about these copies. Let me tell you, I have a VERY hard time with justice not being served. It eats away at my soul. Our designs get knocked off all the time, I am pretty used to that. But I am not ok with people stealing our photos and pretending they are their products. I messaged one of the thieves and ask for them to remove my photo. He did that pretty quickly which is usually what happens. He then put up his photo of the copy he made of our product. It’s a terrible photo, and the product looks pretty shoddy, but the point is somebody ordered probably based on our photo and he made the product. So now he has his own photos of his product. I believe if you make anything that sells well, you should police sites like Alibaba for people who’ve stolen your photos. I think this is how Pottery Barn got a hold of our Smith Commons design. That photo is all over Alibaba, and the buyer for PB probably saw it and said we can mark up that $1.25 table to $600 and make a fortune!
So he messages me back and explains his labor costs are $4 for 8 hours, or 50 cents an hour. And he can sell me copies of my Bronx table for $400. I charge $15k for that table and $400 MUCH less than the parts cost to make it. Pretty interesting, and scary!
I showed this to our shipping manager Jim. He told me about his trip to China. He was working for a solar panel company and the contract was to make half of them here, and the other half in China. And part of his job was to inspect the Chinese factory. He said they worked for $12 a month. The company fed them 2 bowls of rice per day and all the water they could drink. They provided tiny cots for them to sleep on, and they worked for 30 days in a row. They were not allowed to speak, unless they were a manager. And if they screwed up, they got whacked with a wooden stick, and or the boot.
Working conditions in China and India are not up to our standards by any means. If you get seriously injured as a factory worker in China, I’ve learned that you often get fired. Once you cut that hand off, you can’t work well anymore. I mean you only have one hand and everybody else has two. The company assumes no liability, they just go on to the next worker bee. I would surmise, that of all the Asian products we’ve purchased over our life, many people were severely mistreated or even killed while making them. I don’t say this to make you feel guilty, I bring it up to hopefully make you think about it. All of our choices have consequences.
When I confronted one of the Asian companies for stealing my photos, he responded with this, basically saying he thinks it’s not ethical, but it’s what the industry does:
If you want to see if your stuff is being knocked off on Alibaba, it’s a little tricky because their search engine is terrible. Make sure you are on the English site too. I typed in vintage industrial table and found 10s of 1000s of products with many of them being unrelated. So I just went through page by page. It seems the more pages you go through, the less relevant the items are to your search terms. So when it seems they are completely unrelated, type in another search term and go through those pages. When you find a company that has one of your photos, go through ALL of their products. Their product categories are more often than not incorrectly tagged. So mouse over Product Categories, and click on See All Categories. Then scroll through all of the pages because once they find one of your products they like, odds are they’ll copy more. I had to scroll through 70 pages (which just so happens to be the last page) to find they had 20 of our photos posted on their products. And for some reason, right now I cannot report anybody as I am getting an error uploading the photos. I sent in a support ticket so hopefully that gets resolved soon as I want to report all 20 of these and get this guy’s 3 year old account terminated.
China has come from behind and is kicking our ass when it comes to manufacturing and growth. I believe this is mostly due to America opening up trade doors. I understand we want stuff for cheap, and our labor laws and standard of living can make things more expensive to manufacture. But if we outsource everything, that country will grow like crazy and eventually overtake us.
It appears that 16 of 17 Alibaba reports that I filed worked and the products were removed from their website. One of the products is still up. However, their website is now broken as you cannot report anymore. They still have the same form up, but I get this error every time I file out the form.
I tried a few different browsers with no luck. Changed the images a hundred times from Sunday, no luck. I just created a new account thinking they banned mine since I’ve been reporting so much, no luck. I’ve had 3 chat sessions with Alibaba tech support and they all said they would fix it and report back, never heard back. So maybe you can’t report images theft anymore? Or they don’t like my mac. I’ll have to try from a PC next.
The first report I made with Alibaba, they email me back with the status, updates, and the resolution. The subsequent reporting I heard nothing back from them. So they definitely do not have their shit together as a company. Pretty sure they flagged my account because I annoy them with work.
Email I sent to Alibaba Investor relations and Customer Service:
HAH! 5 minutes after I submitted this form I got a call from Alibaba. She was insisting they are against counterfeiting and asked how I am pursuing this in relations to the press. I told her my PR guy is going to run with this story that your company and chairman are pro counterfeiting. She said they have 1 billion listings and it’s hard to police them all, but they are against it. Anywho, she is having someone from their IP enforcement team call me to take care of all my needs. She spoke pretty damn good english too. So maybe I am getting somewhere?
Reply to Quality India who stole 22 products and photos from us: