Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Vintage Patterns, Copyrights, Piracy & Etsy

Do you like to collect vintage patterns? 
I do and I like fixing them up as a hobby.

Is reselling a vintage pattern legal in an e-book, even if I fix up the art? 
Depends. Actually it turns out it is not legal at all if the pattern was made after 1922. Anything made before 1922 is considered 'public domain' and safe to copy, including art, patterns and entire books. But anything from, say the 1950ies is not. The artist might actually be dead or elderly at this point, but even so, the copyright is still valid until 50 years after their death. An artist's work is automatically copyright when they make it or post it up someplace, but only a register copyright is good enough for proof in court.

If it is not legal, why are there so many vintage pattern sellers out there on the internet? 
Because the artwork is pretty much abandoned. No one is policing their work, sending these sellers 'cease and deist' letters or suing. BUT they could sue if they wanted. So it's a total gamble. Even if they choose to sue, it's expensive to do it and they can only sue for the lose of sales. So if you sell the pattern 100 times for $5, they can get $500 bucks back. Not exactly a fortune, but maybe it is worth it to them just to punish the seller. Because if they re-post the work up again, they can get 5 years in prison.

Does Etsy allow you to sell vintage patterns?
Yes they do. Legally you could resell an old pattern you bought that was printed by the ORIGINAL artist or company. Like a paper pattern from Mc Calls or a vintage magazine. But e-books with copies of the original artwork are not legal if they were from artwork after 1922.

Does Etsy 'police' their site to stop re-sellers of people's copyright artwork?
HA HA HA. No. Etsy relies on the public to report shops and listings, and getting them to actually do anything about infringements is truly a battle. Etsy is basically the craft black market. You can find all sorts of copyright infringement products, not just vintage patterns.  If you have a favorite movie or game or tv show or doll, there is going to be some kind of 'knock off' product on there. It can actually be fun as a buyer to see some of these 'inspired' products of your favorite movie or tv characters. But the fun stops promptly if you are the one getting ripped off. Big companies do see a hit in their sales from knock-offs, but small businesses with a single artist or photographer are just totally decimated over night. It is a nightmare to find your art, pattern, clever product idea or photography has been copied and is being resold, usually at cheaper prices.

Does Etsy have to take down the listings that are knock-offs if you complain?
Yes... and no. Legally if they want to be covered under the 'safe harbor' law and not get sued they have to follow a set of rules. Those rules state that they must have a copyright violation report system, and counter claim system and agents on staff to handle reports. If you are buyer and see your favorite artist is being knocked off by a seller on Etsy, you can technically flag the store, but these reports are ignored. If you ask, they will tell you file an internal report on the individual listing.

Does Etsy's copyright reporting system work?
No and sometimes yes. Actually their system is completely broken. If you report the item they will suspend the listing for 10 days and give the seller a warning they have been reported. Sometimes this warning will spook the seller, who might give up selling your work because they fear being sued.  But the seller can file a counter report and just put the item back up. The seller will have to give up their personal info (no guarantee that info is actually legit) and you can use their info to take them to court and sue. If they file the counter claim, Etsy will not remove the item permanently unless you show them the court date for when you are suing. Even if you show proof you are the original seller, even if the seller has HUNDREDS of other notices and complaints, Etsy will not help you out. A scammer seller can even report your original art to be 'theirs' and have your actual legit listings pulled down. Even if you prove this person is a scammer, maybe you have a registered copyright, or the proof they have against you is a photo with your watermark and name and url address, Etsy will not take any action to punish the scammer who reported you.

Is it a good idea to sell your original artwork on Etsy?
Yes and no. You can makes some money, until someone copies you. (you will be copied) Once you are copied your sales will drop and maybe even stop. Even if you are not copied it is hard to get noticed on Etsy, because their listing system is not not very good and your unique items will get lost in a sea of  'cheap' goods.

Is it a good idea to sell your 'digital' artwork or pattern on Etsy?
Good god no! Literally count the days until someone takes your e-book or art and resells it or just plain gives it away! It is a terrible idea to sell digital goods on Etsy.