You know those incredible trinket-filled 'junk' shops you find down backstreets when you're on holiday? The ones with shelves, boxes and rails full of one-of-a-kind items you've never seen before. Well, Etsy is the internet's equivalent.
The site claims to have over 1.9 million active sellers, each of whom offers a unique range of "vintage" and "handcrafted" goods
to an audience of over 34 million buyers around the world. Impressive stuff. Etsy's love for all things homemade can present a particular challenge around copyright, intellectual property and the uncertainty that surrounds it.
Avoiding intellectual property disputes
Intellectual property generally covers all creations of the mind - i.e. inventions, artistic works, designs, text, names, images and symbols. In Etsy terms, an original painting or vintage jacket might be considered tangible property, but other aspects of it - like the images used in the advert, the written descriptions and tags, your shop's name and branding – can qualify as intellectual property; they've been thought up by someone. Copyright, then, is a form of intellectual property that gives the owner exclusive rights to make copies of original creative works. More specifically, its purpose is to stop anyone reproducing, distributing or displaying works, and thus profiting from them.
A member of Etsys legal department answers common questions from sellers about this subject here >>
Creating handmade items based on TV shows, quotes, music etc.
Many of the larger retailers and ecommerce sites sell goods made by established companies or, in some cases, themselves with established copyrights in place. The legal aspects of what can and can't be made and sold are considered much earlier in the supply chain, with specific standards to meet. On Etsy, however, the lines can be blurred. With over 1.9 Million active users creating items based on their favourite TV shows, music artists and literary characters (as an example), it could be possible that some of those users may be using ideas and other intellectual property that is not theirs. So whose responsibility is it?
Store owners might say Etsy, but it is always best to check Etsy's policies first to avoid your items or account being removed from the site. Quora discuss this in further detail here >>
Inspiration - unlawful copying or simple inspiration?
Some product titles used on Etsy may feature the word 'inspired'. For example "Harry Potter-inspired" mugs, and "Adventure Time-inspired" T-shirts. Whilst this is being truthful it isn't a licence to use any images/lyrics/colours etc. you want. It's important to remember that inspiration to some could be ‘’copying’’ to others. The same rules apply for clothing and accessories too - if it looks obvious that you've copied a popular designer brand using their logo and labelled it ‘’inspired", the brand in question are within their rights to make a complaint against you.
Copyright works for you too
If you make a wonderful oil painting and put it up for sale, copyright protection means that another user can't create a copy and make money from it. The same goes for handmade jewellery, sculptures and anything else homemade - you're protected for all of it. Of course, this means you can't go and copy other people's work either.
Etsy detail copyrighting and protecting your work here >> .
Be careful and be truthful…
There's no debating that the intellectual property and copyright laws affecting Etsy users can be confusing. As a rule of thumb, be careful with what you post, and try adhere to the following:
Be inspired but don't knowingly steal other users' ideas – whether that be from individuals or things (TV, Music, Brands etc).
Don't underestimate major commercial brands and franchises – If you knowingly (or un-knowingly) copy, you could open yourself up to copyright and/or intellectual property disputes.
Copyright protects you too - be individual and unique in what you sell and you should be fine.
It might be a major ecommerce platform with millions of users and global reach, but Etsy can't be grouped with Amazon and eBay. The site is unique, and that's down to its focus on originality. Every store offers something different, and that's what makes it worth browsing. Without copyright rules, this wouldn't be possible.
N.B.The information contained on this page constitutes as information and not legal advice.