Friday, December 2, 2011

Textile Friday: Alibaba

         If you ever read Arabian Nights as a child, you remember Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. As an adult, it's the largest small business internet platform based out of China with supposedly over 65 million users. It was launched as a way to connect Chinese manufacturing with business entrepreneurs. As a small business, it can seem like an incredible tool to access much lower than typical retail rates in the US. The math generally puts at you around 1/17th of the cost. But like the cave of wonders, the cave holds both treasure and thieves. Trust the Chinese to offer such a tongue and cheek warning.
        First the treasure: unlimited access to world-wide manufacturing. You can outsource your ideas on a budget. The treasure is pretty obvious the first time you log on and comparison shop.
        Now the warning: It can not be under-estimated how dealing with Alibaba opens you up to dealing with thieves to come into your home. Thieves are not your friends and the same rules of fair business do not apply with someone halfway across the world who likely will never meet you. There's an old proverb that states that "A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy". Switched packages with inferior products, low quality goods masquerading as higher quality, and worst of all artist theft.
        The last part is the hardest to combat against if your artwork is stolen off your website and ripped. China has a "embrace, extend, and exterminate" policy used by Microsoft in the 80s and 90s which seeks to create a monopoly and drive other competitors/players off the field. Dealing with them is best like Ali Baba, sneak in at night, get what you need, and leave without telling them where you live. Many people set up a separate account just for dealing with Alibaba to prevent information theft. Watermarks are rapidly becoming obsolete as technology gets more advanced. So what is an artist to do? The problem that has plagued name brands like Chanel and Polo has come home to roost for smaller artists as well. Etsy seems particularly plagued by this infestation of late. Frankly it's been something I've struggled with and failed at. The only solution seemed to be in trying to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible. And then I ran across this little gem this week that seemed worthwhile to share with you. Please note, this applies primarily to your PHOTOS. Sad, but true. Your photos are one of best protection you have these days.
         One of the best articles I've seen was by the Nelly Van See family run shop out of Canada. The following is reprinted with their permission from the forum threads: 
"Someone on Alibaba stole my pictures... After 3 days, I managed to get my pictures taken down. Here is how." :

"On alibaba, there is on each product item : ' Report Suspicious Activity '. You need to go in the company's profile, go in product, find your items ( you can use search ) and then on top of the picture there is this link.

Report suspicious activity
Alleged picture copyright infringement
This supplier is using a product picture(s) that does not belong to them. Note: Please provide the URL (website address on and specify the location of the picture(s).

--->In the box you write a description why its your item. Say you made it, nothing more fancy then that.
--->You need to send links that prove this is your item, a very good proof is transactions on etsy, as they state the date of purchase. I sent the oldest transaction link for each item stolen.
--->Then I also sent a link to the item listed in my shop. If you have multiple shops, send links from all your shops: artfire, shoply, flickr, photobucket, deviantart, etc
--->A link of the picture on etsy they stole without the watermark.

And a very good proof, a picture of your photography set up.
I take all my pictures on the same small black rocks, I took pictures of those and took pictures of my hands. I sent those also as a proof.

Then in the box, to upload a picture, I just sent the original picture, straight out of my camera that hasn't been photoshoped yet. If you don't have that, just send the original picture without their watermark on it.

There... this is how.

Now everyone who got their pictures stolen, please do this"

Pretty simple. I don't know if you can actually do business with Alibaba and come out ahead. Paypal just ended their year long partnership and Yahoo is currently in disputes with them over the financial gutting of their company to create Alipay. I've had artist friends who tell me about the great deals they have gotten and more quietly mention sheepishly the equipment that never works right or materials that fall apart literally as the fabric is being sewn together. As Wired Magazine pointed out in one of the best thoughts I've read lately there's a growing trend to substitute American automation for Chinese sweat labor. Working smarter, not harder seems to be the US thought lately similar to the Germans and it's a trend I approve of. :-) Well, that's all folks. So the next time you have to deal with Alibaba ripping your artwork, remember these simple steps to stop it by the NellyVanSee family.

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