(Filed Under Financial and General Interest News). Over the years, many apparel makers have complained that images from their ad campaigns have been stolen by unscrupulous wholesalers, often overseas, for use in their own promotions.
This problem seems to be worse in the intimate apparel segment than other apparel categories. Perhaps because it can be more expensive to hire models and more difficult to create attractive images of intimate apparel. Ted H. Luymes, an attorney based in Pasadena, CA has worked with several lingerie firms to address this problem. He is interviewed here by BODY Magazine publisher, Nick Monjo.
MONJO: Many lingerie (and other related product) wholesalers have complained that their images are being stolen by foreign sellers offering knock-offs. Obviously this is a big problem. What are the issues involved?
LUYMES: Copyright theft dilutes the value and reputation of the brands. If left unchecked, it promotes a grey market of knock-off and counterfeit garments sold at impossibly low prices. The wholesaler’s investment in its catalog of photos is diminished. Worst of all, the brands never know how much this kind of theft hurts their bottom-line.
MONJO: Is this a special problem for the intimate apparel category? Or is this problem just as severe across all product categories?
LUYMES: It is a special problem for intimate apparel. My clients invest enormous sums of money to create new designs and beautiful photographs. The photos evoke an erotic fantasy that appeals to the buyer. Grey marketers may be good at copying garments, but they do not have access to the models, photographers, sets, and creative people that make my clients’ photos so alluring. Anyone can take a photo of a blender or a garment on a hanger.
MONJO: Are there any websites or categories of wholesalers that are the biggest offenders?
LUYMES: Amazon’s open catalog facilitates knock-offs and makes it difficult to protect one’s brand. The Amazon employees in charge of the intimate apparel category are aware of the problem and have stepped-up enforcement. Virtually all of the major e-commerce sites out of Asia are hotbeds of grey market goods and copyright abuse, for example: Lightinthebox.com, DHgate.com, AliExpress.com, Taobao.com, and Rakuten.com. The list is long.
MONJO: Are there any websites or categories of wholesalers that are doing a better job of preventing abuses?
LUYMES: Yes. eBay.com and Wish.com lead by example.
MONJO: Step by step, what should a wholesaler do to protect his images before the fact?
LUYMES: Good practice starts with registering your photos with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as soon as the photos are published. Most wholesalers in the intimate apparel industry are reluctant to visually watermark their photos. Such watermarks are easy to circumvent. There are techniques, such as pixel tracking, that are not easy to defeat, but the cost to monitor and screen false hits can be high. Clients should disable copying of their photos directly from their websites. When photos are distributed, they should be accompanied by language restricting use and distribution to authorized sellers, with a right to revoke. Once the photos are in the stream of commerce, wholesalers must be vigilant about enforcing their copyrights when they see unauthorized use. This discourages abuse.
MONJO: Step by step, what can a wholesaler do after he has discovered his images have been stolen?
LUYMES: If the photos are found on an individual website, begin by asking that the operator take down the photos. If this does not work, send a DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] report of copyright infringement to the website’s host. That gets the internet service provider on your side. Foreign hosts often ignore DMCA’s from private parties. If the site takes PayPal, report the infringement through their system. Usually one or a combination of these techniques works. If you’re not getting results and the infringement is pervasive, consult an attorney with expertise in this field.
MONJO: You have mentioned that a group approach to the problem might be effective. Can you outline your ideas on this approach? How would it work?
LUYMES: Yes. Recently a UK distributor alerted half a dozen intimate apparel brands of a website that had nearly 1,000 stolen images. This Chinese website ripped-off all of its content and used sophisticated means to shield itself from copyright complaints. Several of the brands engaged me to go after this website. Eventually, we got the attention of the Bahamian domain registrar. Representing the group, I was able to get the registrar involved and my clients’ photos began disappearing from the website. If each of the brands had attacked this website independently, they would not have succeeded.
MONJO: Do you have a “case study” or an example (or two) that you can share with us on how you defended a wholesaler in a situation in which his images were stolen?
LUYMES: It is satisfying to take down an entire website, which sometimes happens quickly when the website is engaged in large-scale copyright abuse. One website was terminated 20 minutes after my initial DMCA report. I often get apologetic emails from the website operators ratting-out other websites where unauthorized images appear. We can’t take down everything, so my clients pick and choose which websites and e commerce sellers have to go.
MONJO: Do you have any other comments on the subject?
LUYMES: Copyright enforcements might seem like an unwinnable fight. But doing nothing lets the bad guys steal your profits and tarnishes your brand. It gets worse if you do not fight back. Flexing your copyright muscle is the key to protecting the value of your brand.
Ted Luymes can be contacted at (626) 993-7000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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