We usually try our hardest not to concern our fans with headaches we deal with behind the scenes — after all, we're in the business of bringing you joy, not bumming you out! But this time we really could use your support and encouragement. We've been having an extremely tough week for a variety of reasons.
Some of the aggravation we're dealing with is professional. As I write this, my partner Matt and I have spent over 40 hours of our time — so far — trying to get Amazon to remove thousands of listings of counterfeits of our products. This is time we could've spent creating new art, taking photos for our social media accounts, and generally trying to grow our business.
As the problem persists, fraudsters in China, along with Amazon, are making money every single day by infringing on our intellectual property and defrauding consumers. Our product photos depict pictures of us modeling our shirts featuring our art. Some of them even feature pictures of our beloved cat Oliver, as we've used photos of him in shirt designs.
Imagine how angry you'd be to see art you'd work hard to create and depend on for your livelihood now being counterfeited and sold using pictures of you and that the parties responsible for it face no consequences and are allowed to continue to do this, even after you've asked them to stop. Pretty enraging, right?
Matt and I are not the only ones being hurt by these counterfeits. Consumers on Amazon are spending their hard-earned money in good faith expecting to receive the product they saw advertised on Amazon. They are expecting the soft ringspun shirt they read about, hand-printed with water-based eco-friendly inks in southern California by Boredwalk and featuring high quality, sharp, crisp, clear prints of our original art -- just as advertised on Amazon. Instead, they are receiving who-knows-what quality of shirt, printed in China — not by Boredwalk — featuring a grainy, pixelated version of the art they saw, printed with a low quality iron-on transfer instead of the water-based eco-friendly inks they were promised.
These consumers are mainly American customers who think they are buying something from a company based in America, and that's not what they are getting. As a result, those consumer dollars that are rightfully ours and rightfully belong in our economy so we can hire more employees, invest in more production equipment, and continue releasing high quality products are being sent overseas. This counterfeiting is unfair to consumers, damaging to our economy, and obviously terribly unfair to us.
To add more insult to injury, when Amazon customers receive these atrocious low-quality counterfeits, it would make perfect sense for them to leave negative reviews complaining about the garbage they received. Those negative reviews are now attached to our brand, implying we were the ones who shipped these garbage products. Now other consumers who aren't familiar with our brand yet are cautioned against buying anything Boredwalk based on reviews that aren't even of our actual products.
Many artists and entrepreneurs are being victimized on Amazon just like we are, and nothing's really being done about it. In fact, American businesses lose hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars every year due to counterfeiting.
Websites like Amazon hide behind the safe harbor clause of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). The provision was originally designed to protect web hosting companies from copyright infringement claims but it's now being used by ecommerce businesses like Amazon, even though the clause stipulates that to qualify for protection a claimant must "not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity" and "must not have actual knowledge that it is hosting infringing material."
Amazon receives a commission from the sale of every counterfeited product on their website (financial benefit), and the availability of counterfeit goods on their website has been well documented in the media (actual knowledge). Prominent sources such as CNBC and Wall Street Journal have reported on the problem, CBS reported on how counterfeits are a genuine consumer safety concern. When small businesses have taken Amazon to court for this issue, courts have ruled that the law must be changed and they won't rule against Amazon. To date, congress has still done nothing to protect American businesses and artists.
What's making this unchecked, flat-out robbery and injustice I'm dealing with at the hands of Amazon and counterfeiters overseas even more miserable for me personally is that it's happening against the backdrop of reporting around the case of the now-infamous convicted sex offender Brock Turner, formerly of Stanford University.
Most people are outraged about this case. Every new detail that comes out is more infuriating. From the way the judge in the case commented that he was giving a convicted sex offender a light sentence because "a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him" to the way this offender's father has defended his son's unspeakable behavior, describing his offense as "20 minutes of action."
I agree with everyone's outrage. But as a victim of a pretty similar crime myself, the invalidating attitude of our legal system, this judge, etc. is hard not to take very personally. Any time someone minimizes what Brock Turner did, they are minimizing what happened to me, too. Although the setting of my experience was a middle school slumber party rather than a booze-fueled frat party, the crime is the same.
I find myself even more outraged when anyone suggests this crime has anything to do with drinking or promiscuity, as though removing those elements would prevent crimes like this. The absence of booze and promiscuity certainly didn't keep me safe, and it's insulting to all victims to imply that there is any "cause" for this crime other than the perpetrators' own sense of entitlement.
Any time someone minimizes the severity of a crime like this by calling it "20 minutes of action" or saying a perpetrator is not a threat to society, it minimizes the experience of everyone who has been victimized in this way. Any time someone says the crime is caused by anything but the sex offender, it takes the responsibility away from the ONLY party responsible. Any time a sex offender receives a light sentence, it's a slap in the face to every victim of that type of crime. It's a clear message that in the eyes of the the law, victimizers and their apologists, we don't matter. Those of us who have experience with this can attest: the damage this crime inflicts lasts forever. So no, we are not satisfied when an offender only serves a few months in jail while we are saddled with a lifetime of fear, anxiety, depression and low self-worth. We are, in fact, deeply offended.
To watch Brock Turner not really pay for what he did to his victim; to watch Amazon not pay, and in fact, profit from stealing from me; to watch counterfeiters steal from me and be rewarded rather than punished for it; to be reminded that my own perpetrator will never pay for what he did; to think about all the injustice every day all over the world — it all makes it really tough to get out of bed most days and come to work and do my job and engage in a seemingly futile argument with Amazon to protect what is rightfully mine and design fun new graphics for people all over the planet to enjoy.
It's times like this that I desperately need reminding that there's some goodness in the world. That people share in my anger about injustice — social, professional, and otherwise. That people think Amazon needs to do better for its merchants and customers. That people understand the seriousness and life-long impact of crimes like rape and believe that it is their moral obligation to do anything and everything in their power to fight it. That fans are rooting for my small business to grow in spite of set backs like intellectual property theft. That people appreciate the value of my creativity and that my products bring smiles into their world.
Thanks for reading this. I know it was a bit of a bummer. But if this message resonated with you, or you think it might with someone you care about who's also struggling, please pass it on. The more people who know and understand how injustice of all stripes impacts people's lives, the more we can motivate good people to help fight it.
(If you want to add your signature to this petition to Amazon on the topic of infringement go here.)