Etsy Copyright Infringement: Must Read Guide
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Too many Etsy sellers base what can and cannot be legally sold off of what other Etsy shops are selling. They think, this person is selling a copyrighted item, so I can too, right? Nope! That is not how Etsy copyright infringement works.
There are thousands of products that you can find on Etsy that are breaking copyright laws, so using this as an excuse will not mean your shop is safe! Just because other Etsy sellers are getting away with it, doesn’t mean that the same will happen for your shop.
As an Etsy seller, you agree to follow the terms and guidelines that Etsy has set and that includes following copyright laws! So it’s important that you understand what copyright infringement is and how it works, to ensure your listings can stay on Etsy and have success!
We are not lawyers and recommend seeking legal advice for any specific copyright issue.
What is copyright infringement on Etsy?
What exactly is copyright? It protects original works like artwork, poems, books, songs, and more but does not include ideas, devices, names or titles. You cannot copyright something you’ve said simply because you said it. You need to have it on a tangible medium by recording it or writing it down.
Basically, infringement occurs when intellectual property is used without permission from the copyright or the owner of the trademark. It is basically stealing work that is already claimed and that’s definitely not okay!
There are ways that you can use certain creative works without breaking any rules, by either “fair use” or “public domain”. So for example, if you take original work and add new expressions or meanings, or use materials with expired copyrights then you may be able to use them.
You may even end up with other sellers or even other companies infringe on your intellectual property and use it without your permission. But, you would need to have your copyright registered to be able to do anything about it.
It can get complicated to fully understand how the rules go for intellectual property, so if you ever feel unsure, definitely seek out the help of a lawyer!
Why should you worry about Etsy copyright infringement?
As an Etsy seller, it’s important to make sure that you are following the guidelines that Etsy sets for their sellers, or risk your shop being shut down. So yes you need to worry about it! Etsy takes copyright violations very seriously, so if you want to make sure you don’t have any issues with being shut down or potentially being sued, then you want to make this a priority.
No, Etsy does not check every listing for copyright infringement. They don’t have the time for that! It is up to every Etsy seller to do this on their own and understand what is allowed and what is not.
You really have to be careful not only for Etsy removing your listings, but you could get into deeper issues if a larger company comes after you and sues you for a large fee. Making sure that you are following the rules is a very big part of being an Etsy seller!
How to avoid Etsy copyright infringement
To keep it simple, the best way to avoid dealing with Etsy copyright infringement is to keep your work original! Don’t base things off of someone else’s work and make it your own! If you are relying on someone else’s images, character, logo, etc. to create your items, then you are more than likely committing intellectual property infringement.
Think about it this way: Maybe you think what’s wrong with using a Disney copyrighted material for your products because they’re such a large company. What is the hurt in that? But if Disney took one of your images or drawings and used it for their products, wouldn’t you have an issue with that?
Honestly, if you wouldn’t be okay with a company doing something like this to you, this is a good indication that this is intellectual property infringement and you shouldn’t be doing it! But here are some basic ways to make sure you avoid Etsy copyright infringement:
Avoid using copyrighted logos
Definitely stay away from incorporating another business or team logo into your work! Yes this means your favorite sports team logo, the Nike symbol, etc. You didn’t create these logos and you were never given permission to use them, so this is a good sign to you that you shouldn’t use them!
A logo is what connects someone to a specific business, so if you take a logo from someone else to use on your products, you are directly taking buyers that should be going to that business. Even if it seems like a big business that won’t lose much by missing out on a few sales, it still matters that you are bringing in sales not because of your work, but because you’re using someone else’s property.
The right thing to do is to avoid using any logos that are not yours!
Avoid using copyrighted characters
Any character that you see in tv shows, movies, video games, etc. is copyrighted material. This means if you are using one in your products you are committing copyright infringement! The character was not designed by you and you were not the one that spent the money and did the work to bring attention to that character in the first place.
So this means it isn’t your right to use that character in any of your products. Even things that are drawings of a character, a painting, or a doll that looks like a character can still be considered copyright infringement.
Avoid using copyrighted fabric
You will find all kinds of fabric out there with copyrighted logos and characters printed on them. Typically, you will see something written on the fabric like, “for individual use only” or “not for commercial use.” This means exactly what you’d think: you’ll be committing copyright infringement if you use this fabric to make items to sell.
The manufacturer for the fabric may have gotten a licensing agreement for themselves to be able to make the material with intellectual property, but this does not just pass on to you for you to be able to create and sell items with this fabric.
For the most part, the fabric sold at a craft store is intended for personal use and not for commercial use. So this means you are allowed to use this fabric to create a pillowcase or maybe a blanket, but as soon as you take this item and sell it, you are committing copyright infringement.
Avoid using trademarked words or phrases
Yes, even words and phrases are trademarked! This includes names, titles, slogans, and short phrases, which are all trademarked (different from being copyrighted). People can choose to trademark a phrase they use or their name, so any use of that without permission can break laws.
On the other hand, song lyrics are copyrighted. They are included in an original work, a song, which means they cannot be used on any item in your shop!
You can search the US trademark database to determine if a word or phrase you want to use is trademarked.
Avoid using copyrighted images
This one seems pretty obvious to me, but it’s important to clarify! If you find an image on Google, and then take that photo and print it on a product of yours, that’s taking someone else’s intellectual property and using it illegally!
An image on the internet does not mean it is free to use however you please, so keep this in mind and avoid using any images like this for your items.
What qualifies for copyright infringement on Etsy?
Think of it this way: if you are using any image or words that are not your own, there’s a good chance that it is copyright infringement. Unless you purchased a commercial license along with the image you are wanting to use, then any image not created by you cannot be used.
This includes logos, a photo that was not taken by you, clipart, a celebrity’s name, movie quotes, etc. Anything that someone else created is off limits!
This means when you’re going to create an item for your Etsy shop, it should be 100% original! The only way around this is purchasing items to be used in your products and these must come with a commercial license to use them legally.
Do not use trademarked words in your Etsy tags either. That is a common reason listings get removed.
Can you sell Disney stuff on Etsy?
This is a huge no and this is a risk that is definitely not worth it! Disney is the copyright holder for all images, logos, names, etc. So using them in your product or even just in the product name is against the rules.
Of course, some companies do have a license to use Disney characters and a contract with Disney but many sellers do not pursue proper licensing due to the cost.
Disney is very big on protecting their intellectual property, so there’s a very good chance you will either receive a notice from Etsy if you have items with Disney, or you can even be dealing with legal action from Disney, itself. Although it may seem like such a good business opportunity to sell Disney-related items, it definitely is not worth the risk of shutting down your shop or losing money on paying fees to Disney!
Can you sell trademarked stuff on Etsy?
We touched slightly on trademarks above, but basically a trademark protects the “source or sponsorship” of a service or product. So basically, this can be a word, a picture, anything that is associated with the source of a service or product.
You may feel tempted to use a popular brand or a celebrity name in your titles or tags. Maybe even with the phrase “inspired by” or “___-like”. But this definitely doesn’t mean it can protect you from getting an infringement notice! This still is using someone else’s property to try to bring attention to your products and that isn’t okay!
So no, you are not able to sell trademarked stuff on Etsy since that is still someone else’s property.
How does Etsy handle infringement notices?
When someone believes that there is a seller infringing on their intellectual property, they can report this to Etsy to request it’s removal. Etsy’s policies require them to remove the content that is requested once they receive a report of infringement and that it’s correct.
Etsy does not just pick and choose which items to take down for infringement. If a listing has been reported by someone, the seller will receive an automated infringement notice once Etsy has deactivated the listing already.
A lot of times sellers worry that a competitor may have reported them. But Etsy has clarified that they don’t accept reports of infringement from anyone. It can only come from the intellectual property owner.
Etsy doesn’t take these reports lightly and ensures that the report is correct before taking any action!
What happens if you get a copyright infringement notice on Etsy?
What exactly happens when you receive a copyright infringement? You will receive an email from Etsy letting you know that they have removed the listing that was infringing material. There could potentially even be a removal or disabling of your shop as well.
There is no question or warning about removing your listing. They deactivate it right away and just let you know afterwards. This is a part of selling on Etsy and knowing that they have the ability to remove listings if they see the need to.
So what can you do when you receive one? Let’s cover that question next!
What to do when you get an Etsy copyright infringement notice?
If you receive the dreaded email with a copyright infringement notice, but don’t believe you have broken any intellectual property laws, you can file a counter notice to argue that you are the owner of the copyrighted or trademarked material that was questioned.
If you know that you did in fact commit copyright infringement, then it’s time to make some changes in your shop! Go over Etsy’s policies again and even go more in depth into intellectual property laws if you need to. Figure out what you can and can’t sell and remove the listings that you believe would also be copyrighted.
You don’t want to risk more listings being removed or potentially Etsy shutting down your shop. Or worse, having a company take legal action against you.
If you have concerns about revenue loss to your business, you can always hire a legal professional to help you navigate this issue.
How many copyright infringement notices can I get on Etsy?
Etsy actually can shut your shop down after only one copyright infringement! There isn’t a policy on how many violations your shop can have before they shut it down. It really is left to Etsy’s discretion to close your shop at any time.
For example, if your shop is full of Disney-related items and they receive a report from Disney about your shop, there’s a good chance they shut it down right then and there! But, if you’re selling a similar product to another shop and that company files a report, they may remove the listing but not shut your shop down. You could potentially receive a handful of these and still keep your shop going.
It all depends on the situation and what Etsy believes is the best route!
How to report copyright on Etsy
Maybe you are on the other side of this and believe that another seller is infringing on your intellectual property. So how do you report this? First, Etsy recommends trying to contact the seller directly and see if you can reach an agreement. It is common courtesy to message the seller first versus hitting report.
It can be tricky to determine what is copyright infringement and what is not. For example, some sellers may be disappointed to find that a seller has improved upon their design but not directly infringed on their copyright. Also, many sellers do not take the steps to copyright their designs because of cost, time, or other reasons.
There is a free copyright notice template drafted by a lawyer that you can use if the situation arises.
If you cannot reach an agreement with the seller, the next step would be to report this activity to Etsy if you believe it is infringing upon your copyright. Before reporting you may want to review Etsy’s terms here first.
To submit a report you will use the Etsy Reporting Portal. You will register, add an intellectual property, and then create a report. But, you must be the owner of the property or authorized to act on behalf of the owner!
Here are the steps directly from Etsy on how to report copyright.
Register for the Etsy Reporting Portal
First, you will visit the Etsy Reporting Portal. If you have an account, sign in and if you don’t, you can sign up or register your brand to create one. If you are an Etsy seller already, then you can sign in with your shop’s account. Otherwise, you can create a new account.
Then you will choose who owns the rights to the property. If you’re authorized to report on behalf of a business, you will be asked to add a letter of authorization once you add an intellectual property.
Then you will need to add more information about you and your business, and then on to adding an intellectual property!
Add an intellectual property
Next, you will open the Intellectual Properties tab. If this is your first time adding a property, you will select “Get Started.” Choose the type of property, then select “Add Property.” Then you will choose to “add property owner” to add a new owner. Next, choose from the dropdown of previously added owners.
This is where you would add a letter of authorization if you are representing the business owner. Then, you will select the IP owner and add a website if applicable. Add in the name or title of the property and fill in all the details.
Submit a report
From here, select the Reports tab and if this is your first report, choose Get Started. Select the property owner and choose “Begin Report.” Then you can add a name for your reference and choose the Intellectual Property owner from the menu.
Choose the property that this report covers, and then you will choose “Create and Add Listings.” Here you will search Etsy for listings to report. You can select the one or even multiple that fit and add to the report. There’s an option to also upload multiple listings, if that way is simpler.
You can then review and submit! After, you will receive an email confirmation and eventually you will receive an email about the outcome of your report. You can always check on the status of your report in the Etsy Reporting Portal.
Copyright infringement isn’t something to take lightly and it’s important to really understand what is and isn’t allowed on Etsy. You don’t want to risk the hard work that you have put into your shop to be lost because a listing is removed, or because your entire shop is shut down. So take the time to make sure your shop isn’t committing any copyright infringement and keep your work original!
And if you are on the other side of the situation and someone has copied you, remember that copycats will always exist and they won’t get very far without original ideas. They can’t copy your mind and your strategy so try to keep an abundance versus scarcity mindset. It is hard to do but keeping an abundance mentality is one of the traits of successful business owners. Good luck!