Etsy, a website founded by iospace in 2005, serves primarily as an online marketplace for homemade, handmade goods. Anyone who makes goods at home can use Etsy to open a “shop” and sell those goods on the internet. A quick browse through Etsy reveals that nearly any article of clothing or home décor can be had for the right price. Scarves, shirts, shoes, signs, and stationary are all made available by hobbyists with the work ethic to create and market their own goods. Inherently, increased availability of handcrafted merchandise seems like a good thing, but what happens when these homemade goods are direct infringement on the established copyright of another manufacturer, author, or artist?
The second question is a bit more nuanced. Why would Etsy protect the sellers who are directly infringing on the copyrights of others? This answer is likely twofold. First, Etsy makes 3.5% on each item sold through its website. Thus, even though Etsy will comply with a DMCA takedown request, it can continue to profit off the sellers who are infringing the copyright of others but haven’t been caught yet. Second, because Etsy is profiting directly off of its sellers, it has a vested interest in protecting them from liability.
So what should copyright holders do to protect themselves from sellers on Etsy? Until the law is changed, it is probable that Etsy will be shielded by the DMCA. Intellectual property attorney and professional photographer Steve Schlackman suggests that artists should vigilantly enforce their rights by (1) consistently scanning the web for their copyrighted images and (2) making a proper DMCA takedown request. In addition to the aforementioned PIXSY, artists can use src-img bookmarking to keep track of their images across the web. Moreover, if a company like Etsy fails to comply with a DMCA takedown request, it fails to comply with the DMCA and opens itself to copyright liability. If this occurs, authors can seek a lawsuit or settlement against the company for copyright infringement.
Unfortunately, the DMCA allows companies like Etsy to profit from copyright infringing sellers while also protecting them from liability. While Etsy is a useful and valuable entity that allows hobbyists to showcase and benefit from their talents, it raises serious concerns about the scope of the DMCA and how that law continues to apply to “media distributors.” At this point, the law’s conflict with the interests of copyright holders is a policy decision. Do we value the access to handcrafted goods at the cost of copyright infringement? Or should we change the law to strongly protect copyrights while diminishing access to homemade merchandise? That’s a decision for the legislature, and a decision that you can influence.