The Pandemic vs. Black Friday: Copyright Issues to Look Out For

Mini shopping cart on top of black laptop

As we can all acknowledge, 2020 brought its fair share of challenges. And while the creative community has done what it can to help, the coronavirus pandemic has altered the way we interact with each other, the way we work and the way we perform even the most basic functions of society. Nevertheless, the challenges of this year have made us appreciate the small festivities even more. This Black Friday, stores are adapting to the new social distancing regulations and are shifting most Black Friday festivities online in order to avoid large crowds. Here are some Black Friday copyright issues for you to know about!

So, what does a socially distanced Black Friday look like?

A lot of stores are skipping “on the day sales” for Black Friday entirely and extending their offerings through the month of November and December. Stores like Walmart and Best Buy will be closed on Thanksgiving and shift entirely to online sales. These changes have completely altered the landscape of the retail market this year. According to Shopify, only 3% of Black Friday/Cyber Monday shoppers plan to shop physically in retail stores exclusively, a drop from 8% in 2019.

Why does the shift to online sales raise more copyright concerns?

For one, it is more difficult to identify copyright infringed goods online than in person. Amazon, eBay and Etsy are among the top online retailers in the US and are likely to see more traffic this year due to social distancing regulations. However, because these three stores serve as platforms for independent retailers to sell their goods, they are also more likely to have copyright infringing goods on their platforms.

Be mindful of stolen artwork on Amazon.

Amazon has had a slew of copyright infringement cases brought against it from as early as 2004. Most of the complaints involved copyright owners alleging that Amazon used their images on their website in infringing ways. However, Amazon is protected from liability under the DMCA safe harbors for the acts of their independent sellers who post listings on the site, and so copyright owners would need to take legal action against the companies listing the infringing items. Regardless of whether you own a copyright or not, infringement can affect anyone using the site. Stolen artworks are quite rampant on Amazon and last year, artist and shop owner, Susie Ghahremani, discovered pictures of her jewelry being used to sell mimicries on Amazon. Customers often fall prey to this deception and later realize that the product received was nothing like the picture described. So, if you are thinking of gifting a loved one jewelry from your favorite artist, be sure to verify that it is an authorized reseller.

Is that “must-have toy” you bought on Etsy really an authorized sale?

Etsy faces largely the same copyright infringement problems as Amazon. As an online platform for crafts makers, Etsy is the fifth most-visited marketplace site in the U.S according to WIRED. Most infringement issues on Etsy involve people taking artworks and copyrighted characters and placing them on t-shirts, jewelries and other paraphernalia. Last year, Disney cracked down on the unauthorized sale of “The Child” merchandize on Etsy; a Disney character fondly called “Baby Yoda”, to the frustration of the character’s creator, Jon Favreau. Thousands of these The Child products were listed by multiple merchants on the platform shortly after the character’s debut in the Mandalorian. But Disney isn’t the only big brand coming after Etsy merchants; Taylor Swift’s team took legal action against numerous merchants selling unauthorized Taylor Swift products. Some of these goods included t-shirts with lyrics of Swift’s songs which were copyright protected. Admittedly, this might be a hard one to identify for customers, but as a safe bet, if the phrase or lyric clearly identifies the song, then it makes sense to do some additional research to make sure it’s not infringing copyright.

eBay’s Verified Rights Owner Program

For the most part, infringements on eBay are similar to those of Etsy and Amazon. eBay has its Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) program which aims at protecting copyright owners from infringement and cautions sellers on its site against illegally copying descriptions and images of goods from verifiable brands, as well as selling unauthorized copies of media, movies, eBooks, software and paintings. If found to be infringing, eBay will remove the listing and issue the seller a warning. Recently, eBay also launched an authentication program to verify the authenticity of expensive watches and high-end sneakers listed on the website using brand images. Under the program, the products are be sent to a third-party authentication company that will inspect the product before sending it to the buyer.

How to avoid purchasing copyright infringed goods?

As a shopper, one of the things you might want to look out for is the domain name of the site you are making the purchase on. It is easier to purchase copyright infringed items such as pirated software on clone websites. Cyber criminals often hijack similar domain names of popular shopping websites such as Amazon in order to profit off their reputation. An online cyber security company, Check Point, found over 1700 phony URLs targeting Amazon.com alone, with URLs such as “sh0p-amazon.com” and “amazon-centers.com”.

Shoppers and copyright owners can also identify if a product listed on an e-commerce platform is legitimate by using Google’s reverse image search. By doing this, you can look up names watermarked on images and identify products stolen from original creators. Online monitoring services like ImageRights also allow creators to track their images across the web. It is also advised that creators register their copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office, as this allows them to collect statutory damages and take legal action against infringements.

Finally, it is important to look out for suspiciously great deals. Chances are, if the price of an item seems too good to be true, it likely is. In 2019, more than 60,000 campaigns on social media were promoting fake discounts from reputable stores. Most of the ads used hashtags such as #BlackFriday #CyberMonday. Users were lured onto fake websites and in some cases, with no safety measures to verify the items sold.

What to do when you encounter copyright infringement on Black Friday?

Copyright owners who spot copyright infringement on platforms like Amazon, Etsy and eBay, will likely have to issue a DMCA takedown notice for the works to be taken off the website. Although these platforms may be protected against infringement liability under the DMCA, if they want to retain their DMCA safe harbor immunity they must take down the infringing material expeditiously (unless a counternotices by the seller is filed in response).

On the part of shoppers, if you see a copyright infringed good, the best thing to do is to report the item to the online retailer. Amazon, eBay and Etsy all have detailed steps in place to make it easy for anyone to report a copyright infringement.

With all that being said, we at Copyright Alliance wish you happy shopping this Black Friday, and hope you stay safe and socially distanced!

Photo credit: Volodymyr Bushmelov/iStock

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