Merch by Amazon Sellers Say the Platform Is Full of Scammers Stealing Designs
Merch by Amazon, the tech giant’s print-on-demand merchandise platform that, among other things, allows approved artists to upload their own designs, has a scam problem. The platform has reportedly become rife with scammers uploading other people’s designs and selling them as their own work. Often these designs are sold at a cheaper price than the originals.
According to Vice, the issue has gotten so bad that artists who use Merch by Amazon and other print-on-demand services have started collecting and sharing their evidence in Facebook groups to try to get offenders banned.
“I have now concluded that Merch by Amazon is a platform that makes it easy for others to steal copyrighted designs from independent artists,” an illustrator named Yat Yee Tam told Vice. “Amazon knows this, but is not doing enough to protect the artwork.”
Since Amazon’s product marketplace is so big and the company has so many plates spinning now, it can be easy for things like this to slip through the cracks of quality control. Amazon has had issues with products that violated copyright law or possibly its own terms of service being up for sale in the past.
Scammers apparently haven’t even made it all that difficult to spot their theft. One Merch by Amazon seller named Jonah Buckley told Vice that most of the times his work has been used illegally occurred on Merch by Amazon, and that he can tell because the artwork looks like “they are ripped from T-shirt mockups that show up on Amazon, rather than the originally uploaded design.”
To prove his hypothesis, he set a trap.
“Earlier in the year, I did an experiment by only uploading a design of mine to Etsy via my printing production partner,” he told Vice. “It was for the Juneteenth celebration in the U.S. After a few weeks I searched Amazon, and there it was.”
Buckley said that the scammers sold around 20 T-shirts featuring his design.
Designers and sellers think part of the problem with Merch by Amazon as compared to other sites like Etsy stems from the fact that Amazon uses third-party platforms to upload artwork and does not use watermarks on images.
Amazon has tried to do its best to remove listings when it is made aware of them, but given the volume of products, it's difficult to catch them all.
“We have robust vetting procedures in place for participation in Merch by Amazon, as well as pre-publishing moderation to prevent infringing content from ever being published,” an Amazon spokesperson told Vice. “If we find, or anyone reports an infringement that we did not identify, we move quickly to take it down, investigate and remove the item from Merch, and pursue the appropriate legal action.”
Virtually every other online custom merchandise platform that allows user-uploaded designs has run into issues like these at some point or another. Teespring dealt with an almost identical problem in 2018. Etsy's community forums are filled with posts from sellers about stolen designs. Same with Spreadshirt, Redbubble and so on.
The only real surprise here is that it took so long for Amazon's issues to come to a head. For the designers' sake (and any brands caught in the crossfire), we hope the merchandise giant figures out a solution fast.