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!
Read what happened to this company when their products were knocked off
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.
Some interesting articles regarding working conditions: Child Labor Death and Alibaba, Business Insider, iPad, Labor Watch, Accident…
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:
Join the discussion 13 Comments
Why not watermark the photos?
I’ve done that in the past only to have them remove it. And with us being a design company, I think it detracts from the esthetic if the watermark is more prominent and harder to remove.
I hear you, it’s very tidius and annoying to have to deal with all this. Although China’s a mixed bag like any country, I know Chinese factories/suppliers that don’t do this and are in the same boat as us suffering from others copping what ever they put out there. I think you’ll find the same thing with working conditions, it’s going to vary from region to company. I look at them like the western world 100 years ago, lots of work opportunities from the industrial revolution (and with it longer life spams) but terrible working conditions in the beginning. But that changed here and it seems to be changing in China also as it did in Japan etc.
How the western world competes over the coming decades is going to be interesting, i think continuing to provide new things with a great value and customer service will be key.
Good luck with your business
Ohh by the way, about the error you were getting with the form to report stolen images on Alibaba.
When was the first time you got that error? I’ve been trying for over a week and also keep getting the problem (also tried different photos, formats etc).
Alibaba support just told me to use ipp.alibabagroup.com, I was skeptical as it seems this site is really for other IP claims (trademarks, patents etc), but I created an account and like I thought, although they have a Copyright section, it wants us to give them a registration number… so not really just for stolen photos… have you tried using this and made it work in anyway for stolen images?
Many Thanks & happy New Year
The report form broke around August of 2016. Although they claim it works, many people I know agree it does not. There attorney Dr Wang told me to use the other form. I tried and I could not figure it out. Plus like you said it seems like it’s not for photo theft. So I have been emailing my claims to that lawyer and he’s been forwarding them to the appropriate department. They process them within a few weeks and take most of them down. Currently I have found around 750 illegal listings with my stolen photos. Yes that is absurd. I do have a program now to find them for me called plaghunter. You might give it a try.
Hi Greg, thank you very much for all the info. Do you mind if I contact you through your contact form, i’d really appreciate it if you could pass the address of their attorney on to me, as I like you have been having no luck with everything else I’ve tried so far 🙁
Thank you very much for suggesting that program also, I’ll definitely check it out.
Saw an article about this ( and you) in the New York Times. Bravo for your work and your being in PHX!
Here is the link. A Small Table Maker Takes On Alibaba’s Flood of Fakes https://nyti.ms/2mdTI3Q
Yep, came out today. It’ll be in the print edition Sunday (3/19).
I read the story about your company and this issue in today’s New York Times. I am a case writer (and editor of a case journal) and would like to write a case about your company and this issue for use in business school classrooms–ultimately I would seek to publish the case in an academic journal where it would then be available to business professors world wide for use in their classrooms. I believe your company’s story is an important learning moment for students–your intellectual property copied in international markets. In the business strategy course we teach students to develop competitive advantage and that it is important to create advantages that are difficult for competitors to copy–your situation illustrates just how difficult this is in an environment where technology permits easy duplication of photos, descriptions etc. and where legal/regulatory standards in China do not permit you to protect your intellectual property. I think this would be a great learning opportunity for business students and would like to interview you via phone at your convenience. You would have full approval rights on any case I would create–I could not pursue publication of it without your written consent. Please let me know if you are interested as I think this would be a hit for both of us!
P.S. I could send you copies of other cases I have written and published if you would like to see my work. Email me privately.
A simple but effective way to prove your image is not a fake is to trim two of the borders and use the resized image in your adverts. Photographers often do this on their websites for proof in copyright infringement arguments….
Thanks for the idea Mark!
I sent you an email Rebecca.