Etsy Launches New IP Portal

Earlier this month, the ecommerce site Etsy announced that they are launching a new intellectual property portal that they hope will make it easier for brands, creators and other rightsholders to report listings that are infringing on their rights.

The portal itself is fairly basic. Users login with their Etsy account and then first register their brand. This includes various contact information for the brand as well as information about the specific person representing the brand with Etsy.

After the brand is registered, the user then registers various intellectual properties including trademarks, copyrights and patents, The form does ask if the property is registered or not and, if it is, requires that the user provide the registration number and location.

From there, the user can start a report by naming the report, identifying the rightsholder and the specific intellectual property at issue. From there, they can search function to find listings and add them to the report.

Once all the listings are added and the user verifies that the report is correct, it is submitted to Etsy for action. Etsy says it will send an email notification with the outcome of reports that are filed. However, the status can also be found in the reports tab within the portal itself.

Etsy has also clarified that, though an Etsy account is required, the service will be available to non-sellers

It’s a fairly simple system, Though not as powerful as similar systems at other providers, such as eBay’s Verified Rights Owner Program, it’s still a significant improvement for Etsy, which previously required most rightsholders to fill out a separate form for each case. 

However, that improvement comes at a controversial time. Though rightsholders have long bemoaned difficulties in removing infringing material from Etsy, the site has also been targeted by its own users, who say the site isn’t doing enough to protect them from false notices.

A Very Black Friday

In December 2021, The New York Post ran a story featuring Elyza Davis, an Etsy user who claimed that her Etsy shop was abruptly closed during the holiday season due to a trademark complaint filed by a competitor. 

However, she argues, that there was no real trademark issue and the only reason for the notice was to take her site offline for the holiday season. Though she was able to get it restored on November 24, after more than two weeks down, it greatly hampered her ability to sell during the holiday season. 

In a similar story that same month, The Verge reported on another Etsy user, Montana Bowman, who runs a shop selling vintage hats and clothing. He has received a multitude of takedown notices from companies even though his clothing is authentic second hand merchandise. In the most frustrating case, the clothing brand Supreme filed a takedown over a hat that bore the logo of Supreme, a different company that sells truck parts.

According to the original New York Post report, these stories com amidst a significant increase in the notices sent to Etsy. According to one lawyer, 2020 saw Etsy served with some 54,000 requests, a rise of more than 60 percent year over year, and that includes a major spike during the holiday months.

Though the vast majority of these notices are valid, it’s also fairly clear that Etsy has not done enough to filter out the notices filed either in error or out of malice, putting legitimate sellers in harm’s way.

This has led to fear and uncertainty over Etsy’s policies in this space and how this new portal may impact those efforts.

What’s Next for Etsy

The system itself has not been very broadly advertised. The YouTube announcement has shy of 2,500 views as of this writing and the portal itself is not on the home page nor is it listed on the company’s Intellectual Property Policy page

Instead, the system is likely being rolled out by reaching out to existing filers and transitioning them to the new system. This means that it could be some time before a majority, or even a sizable minority, are using the system as their primary means of filing.

That said, the system does make it easier for Etsy to track who sent the notices. That way, if an account is knowingly filing false notices or are being reckless, they can stop that account. 

However, a lot of the cases appear to involve legitimate filings that made an error. The nature of Etsy can often make it difficult to determine which listings are or are not infringing just by looking at the listing. 

For example, in Bowman’s case, are his hats genuine second-hand merchandise or unauthorized copies? It can be difficult to know one way or the other without holding the hat in question, and many rightsholders prefer to remove the listing as to be safe. How this system will help with these cases is less clear.

But the bigger issue is that this system will lead to a rise in the number of notices filed, at least briefly. Given the struggles the system is already having, it’s difficult to say how it will handle an even larger load.

This is why many shop owners are concerned and why its implementation will be important to watch.

Bottom Line

Ostensibly, the new system is a good thing. The aim for Etsy is to streamline the process, both for themselves and for rightsholders. In the long run, an easier-to-use, more trackable and more efficient process is better for everyone.

However, Etsy still hasn’t addressed the concerns of users who are facing questionable takedown notices. It’s a situation where, even a handful of bad notices can create the perception of a serious problem. This is what we saw in December with multiple reports of such issues coming to light.

Etsy’s situation is unique. The type of stores it hosts gives it unique challenges in this space. While this new portal is a great step toward meeting those challenges, others lie below the surface that can’t be quickly addressed with improved forms or systems.

The real test, most likely, will be this holiday season. It will be interesting to see if and how this tool is used around that time, when such notices spike, and how Etsy handles them.

To be clear, this is something of a backseat issue for store owners right now. Given the rising fees and the backlash to them, shop owners clearly have a no shortage of reasons to be angry with Etsy right now. 

However, this is also going to be one to watch, especially as the holidays roll around. 

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