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Designer Sues Etsy and Seller for Copyright Infringement

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Etsy logoDesigner Jan Davidson sued Etsy, an Etsy seller, and print-on-demand service Printful Inc. for copyright infringement stemming from the alleged manufacture and sale of tshirts and mugs with a “Beer Eye Chart” design.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of causing substantial harm to the plaintiff, “who invested thousands of dollars and enormous amounts of time and creative energy to produce their work” – namely, the “Beer Eye Chart” for which she was granted a copyright registration.

Davidson describes herself as well known in the wine community as a phenomenal artist, with a good sense of humor. “Plaintiff produces art for galleries and for the general consuming public. Plaintiff has successfully sold thousands of authentic artworks marketed through the trade channels such as internet sites and retail stores such as Napa General Store, Wine Vine Imports, and True Fabrications.”

Products featuring Davidson’s designs can be found for sale at JanDavidson.com. Some are also available for sale on Amazon from a single seller – possibly an authorized distributor.

In the lawsuit, Davidson seeks damages and injunctive relief arising from the defendants’ “manufacture, distribution and sale of knock-off artwork products identified as “BEER EYE CHART” tee shirts, shirts, mugs and related products.”

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Included in the complaint is an exhibit showing two artworks, one labeled “Plaintiff’s authentic Beer Eye Chart,” and the other labeled “Defendants’ knock-off Beer Eye Chart T-Shirt”:

Beer Eye Chart lawsuit

Typically intellectual property (IP) rights holders file reports with a marketplace to have infringing work taken down under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Many readers are familiar with eBay’s well known program called VeRO.

Etsy explains how it handles IP issues on this page. IP holders can report violators, and the marketplace states, “Etsy terminates account privileges of members that are subject to repeat notices of intellectual property infringement in appropriate circumstances and at Etsy’s discretion.”

While there have been cases of large luxury brands suing marketplaces like eBay over the IP-related issues, this case is rather unusual.

Sellers can often relate to one or both sides when it comes to cases of IP disputes. On the one hand, they may feel bullied by big brands who target sales of authentic items they are reselling. On the other hand, they may be upset at other sellers who copy their designs, photos, or descriptions.

On Thursday, the judge assigned to the case issued a notice to the parties of the court’s policy on settlement and the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). “Despite the efforts of the courts to achieve a fair, timely and just outcome in all cases, litigation has become an often lengthy and expensive process. For this reason, it is this Court’s policy to encourage parties to attempt to settle their disputes, whenever possible, through alternative dispute resolution (ADR).”

Etsy declined to comment for this story. Items listed by the seller named in the lawsuit were still available for sale on Etsy at the time of this writing.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

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