I like to think my journals are generally cheery, but I've got a bit of a downer story today.
In December I was notified by someone that the website Alibaba/AliExpress was selling my Yin Yang Rats design. If you're not familiar, Alibaba (and its various other domains) is a Chinese-based conglomerate website that sells goods both in bulk and individually to consumers. It is made up of smaller retailers, very much like a Chinese version of Amazon. It can be a good resource if you're looking to bulk order supplies for your company, but it's also run completely rampant with art theft, which I am now also a victim of.
Now if this were any old case of art theft, a Cease & Desist and Takedown notice would usually be enough to stop the action in its tracks. Alibaba however, is not some wayward person trying to say my art is theirs. Alibaba is a billion dollar company made up of thousands of retailers with factories mass-producing products in a country where copyright laws are very, very relaxed. They don't care about Cease & Desist letters, they don't care about DMCA takedowns, and even if you do manage to get them to take infringing listings down, it most often will just pop back up under a different company name.
Never in my life had I been faced with this kind of theft on this kind of scale. I had absolutely no idea what to do. As I scrolled through the seller's store, I could see numerous sales they had made, customer reviews with pictures of the shirt, people saying how much they liked it. It felt heartbreaking and personal, like some stranger had just walked up, taken my art right out of my hands, and sold it in front of me while I could only stand there and watch. As an artist, it makes you think "why even bother?"
Why bother working hard on developing that skill, why bother cultivating that creativity, why bother putting that effort in to create something you love when all someone has to do is come up and take it from you with no effort at all. Why bother go about trying to sell your creations the honest way, when a thief and their company can make more from a sale than even the artist does. I host my designs through two of the most generous retailers and it still only amounts to about $2 for every $25 T-shirt sold. I hate to be the cliche, but I am a freelancer, and I am poor. My ability to afford legal help in the case of IP theft is completely out of the question.
After frantically searching the internet for some kind of direction on what I was supposed to do, I found Miss Susie's journal on art theft and removing images from Alibaba. It's an absolutely invaluable resource for outlining the asinine series of steps needed in order to be taken seriously on this website. It should be mentioned that the guide appears to be a little dated, as the process I went through was slightly different than what is listed.
Step one: I had to verify my identity. This included uploading personal and invasive info like my name, ID, address, passport, etc. I was required to print out and sign various other legal forms as well as upload proof that I was the copyright owner of the Yin Yang Rats design. I sent them screenshots of my galleries and my stores where the image has been uploaded, as well as a screenshot with a big fat circle around my damn signature on the art itself, which the art thief didn't even bother to edit out of their product photos.
The sheer irony that any person could apparently steal my artwork and sell it with no proper ownership verification while I, the victim, had to go through this ridiculous appeals process was not lost on me.
Now Miss Susie's guide says it may take 1-2 weeks to hear back after submitting this info. Since this fustercluck was all happening right in the midst of Christmas, I assumed it may take a little longer than that. I sat as patiently as I could, watching the thief's store make more holiday sales, knowing I would never be reimbursed in time, money, nor exposure for any of it.
By the time January hit I still hadn't heard back, so I checked my account only to see that there were no pending verification requests. I genuinely don't know what happened to make my original proof of identity request disappear, but for the rest of this process I repeatedly ran into little hiccups like this. My only verdict is that their site is hard to navigate and a bit buggy, so you've got to make sure your forms and requests are properly sent.
Redoing all of my previous work in filling out forms and such, in a proper rage because this was just ridiculous, I was taken to a new page I hadn't seen last time. This page required yet another form to be printed and signed, and upon submitting that, I was finally met with a "pending approval" notice.
One good thing I can say is it only took a few days after that for me to hear back - about my proof of identity being rejected.
According to them, my ID had expired.
They were looking at the god damned date of issue in October. My ID doesn't expire for ten bloody years if they'd just looked at it for a proper 2 seconds.
Being royally done with this bullshit, I drew a great big red square around the expiration date of my ID and wrote "NOT EXPIRED" across it, and resubmitted my application.
This time, it was accepted. Fancy that.
Now, finally being in their system as the copyright holder of my Yin Yang Rats design and being solidly confirmed as a real person, I could finally make a move toward reporting the art theft. This process is fairly simple, you're just required to submit the infringing store links and write a complaint about why you're reporting them.
Another two weeks went by and I hadn't heard any updates, so I logged into my account again. Both the infringing links had been removed. I assumed I would have gotten a notification about this, but at least my designs had finally been taken down.
Remember that part above, where I said getting a design removed would only cause it to pop up somewhere else?
Yeah, two links down, but upon checking the website for any more infringements, I found two more links had sprung up in their place.
The process of requesting removals is easy at this point, but the audacity that an art thief, upon being caught, would simply continue to try to steal my stuff is just egregious. They have no shame, no sympathy, no respect for my rights and my work. I fear it's going to be a game of Whac-A-Mole with my Yin Yang Rats design from here on out.
As of this posting, one link has already been removed, less than 24 hours after reporting it, the other is still pending. At least there is some comfort in knowing things can be dealt with quickly once you get everything approved.
That only leaves the question, how did they get a hold of my artwork in the first place?
Some of my designs are several years old now, and as such, have needed a few touch-ups here and there for color correction and printing compatibility. Just about every site allows you to re-upload previously submitted files, one in particular does not. DesignByHumans is a shirt printing on-demand kind of service, and once you submit a file you cannot edit it unless you remove the listing and re-upload it. Doing that would of course remove the listing from those who have favorited it, or anyone who has posted a direct link to it. Not wanting to lose those favorites and links, I opted to just keep my images as-is.
Everywhere else hosting my shirt designs sports updated pictures, DBH is the only place still selling the older versions, and guess what version of my Yin Yang Rats Alibaba had? That's right, the one from DBH.
This does not seem to be out of character for Alibaba, in fact there are many, many cases of people reporting their designs being stolen from DBH, and you only need peek into Alibaba's shirt market to find a plethora of stolen images. It appears DBH is a bit of a go-to market for Alibaba sellers to reach their grubby hands into, and for this reason, I've decided to remove my designs from DBH in order to prevent any more of my art from getting stolen. You can still find my designs available for purchase from TeePublic and my Etsy stores.
If you ever see my designs listed, used, or for sale in some place they shouldn't be, please let me know. This process was, and continues to be, a nightmare, but I wholeheartedly thank the person who first notified me about this theft. If you see art from other artists being stolen, please let them know, and if Alibaba is concerned, please send them Miss Suzie's Journal as a resource. I am also available to answer questions if anyone needs help, this was a very confusing and infuriating process but very necessary to keep the integrity of my artwork. I only wish it could be over.
I want to stress here, getting your art stolen is not some fantasy milestone of importance or success as an artist, as a lot of people like to make it seem. Art theft can absolutely destroy someone like me. The profits I lost to this store, and continue to lose, could have paid my rent several times over. Artists do not benefit when their art is stolen. Most often they do not get reimbursed, they do not get exposure. They get nothing but a headache, lost money, lost time, and a reluctance to even continue making and sharing their art.
Everyone who has followed me, commented on my art, appreciated my hard work, and supported me has kept me going and kept me wanting to share my work with you all. It is not your fault some Chinese company with no morals has stomped all over my rights as a person and an artist, but it has resulted in much misfortune for me, my emotional state, and my working conditions. Because of this, and because I have been asked about it before, I am placing a Paypal donate button here in case anyone has the desire and funds to make use of it. I am not currently in a position of struggling for money, so please do not feel pressured to donate if you cannot afford it, it is simply an option I am making available.
Thank you for reading this very long journal, and thank you for your continued support of my artistic endeavors.
tl;dr: Alibaba/AliExpress are well known for art theft and scams. Do not buy things from there unless you know without a doubt that it was not taken from anywhere else. If you see the art of an artist you know being sold without permission, please notify them and link them to Miss Suzie's Journal. I am also available if you have questions about how to deal with Alibaba's appeals process, it was a pain in the ass but very, very worth it. Please stand up for artists, please help us keep the integrity of our work. I believe Alibaba ripped my design from DesignByHumans, so I will be removing my products from their store in an effort to keep Alibaba from stealing any more from me. You may continue to purchase my designs from Teepublic and my Etsy stores.