Today, most of us cannot imagine life without the internet and Google available to answer our every question and shopping need. Just five years ago, internet shopping was in a fledgling state and consumers spent most of their holiday budget at brick and mortar stores. Today, online sales account for a significant portion of retail shopping, a trend that has changed the Marty Magic business both for good and for bad.
On a positive note, I no longer rely solely on sales from Art and Craft Fairs and Renaissance Festivals. Today, sales from www.martymagic.com and our Etsy Shop account for nearly 60% of our sales. Many of my contemporaries without e-commerce websites are struggling as they grow older because although the Art Show and Renaissance Fair circuits can be exhilarating and exciting when young, they are exhausting and limiting when one gets older.
On the negative side, the internet has made artists and designers extremely vulnerable to plagiarism. All of my work is pictured online for the world to see and to be inspired by. I write “inspired by,” because throughout time, art and culture have been influenced by what has gone before allowing for the natural evolution of art, design and innovation. Unfortunately, not everyone has creative ideas of their own and there are people and companies that have no qualms in stealing the intellectual property of another if the design or concept is likely to turn a profit. Whereas the United States has strict laws governing I.P; the emerging markets of China and other parts of the world don’t have the same regards or laws governing intellectual property.
In the fall of 2011, Elle Wilson, a 14 year old girl saw a picture of a “beautiful snake ear cuff”, circulating on Tumblr with 40,000 re-blogs and likes. She sourced out the image and discovered that I was the creator. Coincidentally, the next day, she checked Urban Outfitters’ new arrivals and was shocked to see the exact ear cuff for sale on their site. She pointed this out to her father, Adrian Wilson, a New York fashion photographer and he took notice. It was New York fashion week and Adrian wrote a timely blog post about Urban Outfitters’ selling a counterfeit Marty Magic Snake Ear cuff; “The Snakes of Urban Outfitter.” His article was posted on Blognity during fashion week and made quite a stir.
Many of my customers tell me that they see my designs on eBay, Alibaba and numerous other websites, selling for considerably less than on www.martymagic.com. Although, I do have a few authorized online representatives selling my jewelry, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t a genuine Marty Magic ear cuff or Marty Magic Jewelry design. The photo you see advertising the counterfeit piece may look identical to the photo and product on my website because in many instances the photo is illegally taken from my web site. For example, jewelry manufactures in China need only to click and drag one of my product photos onto their website, the bait on their hook. In the interim, they purchase a genuine Marty Magic piece from my on-line shop, ship it to their factory in China and mold it in anticipation of orders. The inferior counterfeit piece will have less detail and will be cast of a base metal from an illegal mold made directly off of my copyrighted design. Purchasing counterfeit articles encourages the practice, discredits the designer, discourages innovation and delivers an inferior product.
Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but this is not the sort of affirmation that I desire. In just three years, the market has been flooded with knock off Marty Magic ear cuffs and a smattering of other designs of mine. Initially I was outraged, then disheartened and discouraged. At first Alisha and I did our best to report counterfeit Marty Magic designs to eBay, Amazon and Etsy. All of these reputable marketplaces support an artist’s intellectual property but the tsunami of counterfeit designs that has flooded the internet is impossible to police. We scheduled Mondays to report the infractions but no sooner is one counterfeit listing removed than three others are posted. It feels rather like playing “Whack a Mole” in a video arcade but the stakes are much higher. My loyal customers and collectors are confused, my brand name is sullied and I lose countless sales to the pirated designs.
I travel considerably and in street markets around the world I see counterfeit designer goods for sale. Pirated copies of video and music recordings are for sale on every 3rd world street corner and back alley upstairs show rooms sell imitation Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Channel accessories. Even though I may be in the company of top designers, I take little consolation that I am a target for counterfeiting. My daughter, Alisha, is now creating wonderful jewelry designs of her own. She recently made an off color joke:) “Mom, when I see one of my ear cuff designs knocked off and for sale on Alibaba, I will know that I have made it! ”
The following is an excerpt from my blog post of our 2012 trip to the U.A.E. “We wander the narrow streets of old Dubai and are repeatedly approached by Pakistani and Indian men wanting to show us designer hand bags and they beckon us to follow them. My ear cuff designs are copied and counterfeit in China and I am strongly against buying counterfeit goods. John however is intrigued and lustful and he follows one man down twisted alleys and up several flights of dirty stairs to a fourth floor clandestine “showroom” filled with copies of Louis Vuitton, Channel, Gucci etc. I have no choice but to watch John’s back so I follow and I sit stone faced on a plastic stool while John inspects counterfeit sunglasses, belts and t-shirts. As I sit watching the salesman “work” John, other tourists are escorted inside, gleeful to purchase “best quality copies of designer goods.”
It is difficult for John and I to make our escape without purchasing but when we are again at street level, I lecture John on ethics. This is the first and only time on our trip that we have had any conflict and John does not understand my point of view. He wants to buy a pair of sunglasses, a wallet and a belt and I decide that this does not warrant a fight and quietly follow John, who follows a second and then a third man into tiny upstairs rooms packed full of counterfeit goods. I am curt with the sales men who try to interest me in a designer bag and tell them “I would be embarrassed to own one.” They don’t know how to handle me and at one point, I am moved to a stool on the outdoor, upstairs landing and a young Indian man sits beside me and we talk about his family back in Kerala, India. I am sure he has been instructed to get rid of the “old bag” so that the other salesmen may make a sale to John but it is interesting to talk with him and he is happy and proud to be living and “working” in Dubai and able to send money back home to his family. I am almost relieved when John eventually makes a purchase so that we can move on with our day.”
Whether online or in your travels, be mindful of what you buy and think carefully before supporting this growing industry of counterfeit and pirated goods.