How BOMONSTER beat the big tech scammers...for now
Copyright infringement is serious business when you are the content creator and a big corporation steals your work, goes global and profits. Artists who promote their work on social media might think they have the law and the power of big tech on their side but they would be wrong. Copyright infringement is big business for big tech corporations like Instagram, Facebook and web host Shopify.
Although those platforms theoretically "even the playing field" for independent small business by allowing savvy independent creators to create brand personas, ultimately it's ad spending and collecting sales fees that determines who gets the better treatment - no matter how unethical a scammer's business practices are.
It happened to me and I was somewhat successful in stopping an international scam. In an effort to help other artists protect their work, here's how I did it:
Recently, a huge Chinese website stole a dozen of my designs, removed my name and watermarks from my work and printed them on cheap button up shirts. They began a series of facebook/Instagram ads targeting car enthusiasts and friends who saw the ads alerted me that something didn't look right.
I went to their website to find they stole about a dozen of my designs to print cheap shirts. Their website www.summereverest.com looked very American. Lots of active lifestyle images and copywriting that appeared to know the culture but just sounded "off." I went to their customer reviews and they were overwhelmingly negative. Ill-fitting, bad quality shirt material, money sent but didn't receive product, sizes not matching order, no refunds, no communication with company, etc.
My immediate reaction was anger and I commented on their Facebook and Instagram ads using words like "Scammers", "art thieves," etc. I asked friends to do the same when they saw the ads and they did - using far more colorful language. Soon summereverest.com facebook page and Instagram ads were covered with nasty comments.
Within hours I received an Instagram message from summereverest that they valued the rights of content creators and that I should look for an email. Both their text and email suggested: "Shall we have business cooperation? Many buyers love ur designs so we really want to cooperate with u."
I emailed them and said that I wasn't interested in a "cooperation" and asked that they take my designs down and pay me for what they had already sold.
I also contacted Instagram which is owned by Facebook. It's not easy to find but they offer a form claiming digital copyright infringement. You can report it to Instagram by filling out this form.
I sent them the above screen shots of the Instagram and Facebook ads, individual live links of my designs plus matching live links from their website showing my designs being sold on their shirts without my permission. I also included this graphic as a PDF:
What I got back was this response from Instagram:
"Based on the information you provided, it’s unclear where the content you wish to report appears on Instagram. In almost all instances, the best way to help us locate content is to provide us with active links (URLs) leading directly to that specific content."
I emailed them to ask how is it possible to obtain a URL on an ad that disappears after you scroll? Shouldn't they able to identify the advertiser by the name? This was their response:
"Thanks for contacting us. It looks like you're attempting to report content that you believe infringes your copyright. To review your report further, we'll need you to provide the following:
- An example of your copyrighted work, such as a link (URL) to a publicly available version of your copyrighted work
- An explanation of how you believe the reported content is infringing your copyright."
It was obviously a non-human form response asking me for what I had already sent. It appears instagram had no intention of helping me - a "valued customer."
The next step was to send a compliant to Shopify - the web host shown at the bottom of the summereverest.com website. Since my own website is also hosted on Shopify I was hoping that I would see some results and I did. Shopify includes this promise on their website:
"When we receive proper notification of claimed copyright infringement, our response to such notices will include removing or disabling access to material claimed to be the subject of infringing activity and/or terminating the user’s account."
Liking the words "removing," disabling," and "terminating" I got excited and found the form to fill out. Shopify requested the same information as Instagram and provides a form here.
Success! I sent in the form and the next day I received an email stating the content had taken down from the offending website.
"This email is to inform you that the content listed as infringing in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Takedown Notice has been taken offline."
Whoo-hoo! "Taken offline?"I thought I beat the big guys and it was over and then I got an email from summereverest.com proposing a deal.
"If you agree to allow us to continue using your artwork on our clothing items, we propose a commission rate of $1 per item sold directly through our website. Additionally, if you are open to promoting our collaboration on your Instagram page and including the provided link, we would be happy to increase the commission rate to $3 per item sold through that channel."
"We highly value your talent and creativity, and we believe this collaboration could be mutually beneficial. Your artwork would reach a wider audience through our brand, and you would receive financial compensation for each sale generated."
What would you do? Getting paid is the goal of every artist. But they did steal from me, and they have horrible reviews, they didn't reveal sales projections, they are half a world away and so many of my Instagram and Facebook friends really gave them a piece of their minds on my behalf. I passed and declined the offer stating their bad reviews would be a bad reflection of my hard earned good reputation. Then summereverest.com took down my designs.
End of story? I thought so too until the next day when Shopify sent me this notice:
"In accordance with Shopify’s (DMCA) policy, the removed material may be replaced ... within ten (10)... business days unless Shopify first receives notice from you that you have filed an action seeking a court order to restrain the Merchant from engaging in infringing activity..."
That's right - summereverest.com has the right to repost my unauthorized designs again in 10 days unless I provide a costly and impossibly time consuming restraining court order. All those Shopify promises of copyright infringement justice on behalf of their customers apparently only applies for 10 days.
Meanwhile summereverest.com replaced my designs with a half dozen generic cars that looked they were scratched by BOMONSTER. Perhaps they will be successful with their new designs and leave me off their website for good.
What did I learn along they way? Who really saved the day? Fans, friends and customers put real pressure on the company through social media comments. Instagram/Facebook/Shopify are in the business of collecting ad revenue and sales fees and use a strategy of putting up digital walls of forms that can never be filled out to their satisfaction to protect their best interests. Fees collected from me don't compare to the fees collected from the scammers. Oddly enough it was my own correspondence with the company - after friends flooded the social media posts with negative comments - that created the dialog that removed the stolen designs. It was a long and painful process to realize big tech is on the side of the scammers but it was gratifying to get a win over them...for now.