I think everyone appreciates that Amazon has improved its workflow for dealing with infringement claims, but there's still a lot that needs to be done to improve the plagiarism situation. Many copycats run stores where *all* their designs are pixel-for-pixel copies. There needs to be a way to bring these stores to Amazon's attention without having to file individual infringement claims. The easier it is for people to share actionable information with Amazon about mass infringers, the better it will be for the long term health of the Merch market place. This post is dedicated to ideas of ways the Merch team can fight back against pixel-for-pixel plagiarism. I encourage other Merch users to share their your own ideas, and hopefully some of them will be of use to the Merch team. [b]1. WATERMARK IMAGES[/b] If Amazon doesn't want gaudy watermarks, they can at least create imperceptible digital watermarks only detectable through an algorithm. This watermark would have to survive certain digital alterations that thieves would engage in (resizing / background removal). [b]2. ANONYMOUS CONTACT FORMS[/b] Create an anonymous contact form where people can send information about suspected mass infringers. This form would allow people to post links to shirts they believe are carbon copies of each other. As it now stands, Merch sellers are being forced to coordinate their efforts to take down mass infringers and it rarely seems to work. There's a popular thread on this forum dedicated to suspected copycat stores and the vast majority of the stores are still online. Obviously, our current coordination efforts aren't working very well. Make it easier for non-copyright/trademark owners to send in tips about infringement -- and then ACT on those tips. If Amazon only acts on copyright owner claims, Merch will be flooded with plagiarists. Case-by-case infringement claims are bandaid solutions when the only thing that will stop these copycats is aggressive surgical amputation. [b]3. COPYRIGHT TOOLS BAKED INTO THE MERCH PLATFORM[/b] If Amazon refuses to act on information from non-copyright holders, then it needs to create a way for Merch designers to coordinate their own efforts in the fight against mass infringers. I'm not talking about threads in forums that most people aren't aware even exist and that don't seem to make much of a difference. I'm talking about a set of "protect your design" tools that are baked into the merch platform itself and accessible via the menu bar. One of these tools should involve a forum dedicated to sharing information about suspected infringers. At the moment, you have to search your shirts individually to find out if someone stole then -- that becomes onerous if you have hundreds or thousands of shirts for sale. [b]4. BUILD A PATTERN RECOGNITION SYSTEM FOR COPYCAT DESIGNS[/b] Such a forum would be unnecessary if Amazon implemented a system that recognizes copycat designs. If a service like Tineye exists, surely Amazon can develop a way to recognize pixel-for-pixel copycat designs. Amazon doesn't even need to prevent shirts from being listed: just inform people when a design identical (or almost identical) to one of their shirts has been uploaded to the Merch market place, along with a link to the shirt in question, and then the Merch member can determine whether or not to file an infringement claim. Assuming this pattern recognition database has been built, every time someone uploads a design that gets flagged as a copycat, a window could pop up that warns the uploader that copyright infringement could get their store shut down. This pop-up would would then tell the user that the design is similar to a pre-existing shirt on Amazon, and that the owner of that design will be informed of this new shirt once it goes live. [b]5.COPYRIGHT AUDITS DURING TIER LEVELLING[/b] Until such a pattern recognition database is built, Amazon should keep new Merch user accounts to 25 design slots (i've heard rumours that some people are starting with a hundred slots). Before Amazon upgrades people to a new tier level, it should include a copyright/trademark audit of their designs. Just grab a certain percent of the designs at random and see if those designs are pixel-for-pixel copies of other designs on Amazon. If they are, investigate the account to see how widespread their infringement is. A copyright audit needs to be part of the tier levelling process, and Merch members need to be warned that their store WILL be audited for copyright violations before they're upgraded. If people know that Amazon is pro-actively dealing with copycats, and takes the issue seriously, it'll deter a lot of lazy thieves. These are some of my ideas. I'd love to hear what recommendations other people have.
These are all very good ideas. The watermark would at the very least make it more difficult for people to rip off designs (you can get a pretty high resolution image of the shirt from the product pages). Pixel / image copycats are a serious problem that needs to be dealt with to maintain good quality in the marketplace.
A couple more things... Merch should improve the dating information of designs so as to dissuade copycats. It'll also give peace of mind to merch designers who might feel vulnerable to false take-down claims. I'd like to clarify how a copyright audit system could work. I'm assuming Merch has some low skilled people doing a lot of data entry grunt work for it, so the auditing system could be built with that in mind. Program a script that grabs a certain percentage of designs at random from a store that's about to be tier bumped. After grabbing these designs, the script would then present your auditors with a page that features the shirt design on top. On the bottom would be a list of other designs pulled from Amazon based on the original shirt's title and keywords. Anytime a design shows up as an obvious pixel-for-pixel copy of another design, the auditor would mark it down. If enough designs are marked as copies, the auditors would open up a case and send it to a better trained team to investigate, a team that can determine if these are pixel-for-pixel copies or licensed designs, etc. If a store full of pixel-for-pixel designs accidentally passes the audit but later has a bunch of infringement claims made against it, Amazon could then investigate why it passed the audit in the first place, tweaking their audit system as they go along. This is a fairly low rent solution to the copycat problem, but it could make a huge difference.
Thank you everyone for the recommendations on how to improve our service regarding IP infringement. I'll share this thread with the Merch by Amazon team, please continue to share your feature requests.