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Flipkart seems to be getting mixed up in a lot of mess these days. After ED probing it for FEMA violations, the BigBillionDay blunder and now there is something else waiting for Flipkart to get dragged into.

Offering copyright infringed products is something not viable for any ecommerce firm, online marketplaces takes up numerous steps to make sure that none of the sellers on their platform are selling such products. However, due to a huge number of sellers selling on the platform, it becomes difficult at times to manage this. However this is something that online marketplaces have to take up more dedicatedly as at the end of the day in case anything like this happens, it does spoil the brand image and comes with legal issues of its own.

Well, this is something which has brought Flipkart into limelight once again and points to the fact that now it’s time for Flipkart to start taking copyright infringement much more seriously, as it used to before. In a recent petition filed by an individual named Sanjay Gupta, Volunteer, Artists Rights Protection Society at Change.org, they have blamed Flipkart for selling copyright infringed products through its marketplace.

The petition filed at Change.org states,

This petition has been filed to demand justice for Original Visual Artists / Designers / World Renowned Brands whose artwork has been stolen and being consistently commercialized without consent on marketplaces like flipkart.com. Due to ecommerce portals like flipkart.com where anyone can sell stolen art, there has been an exponential rise in the past one year of cases in which official logos of brands and famous trademarks / original artwork of designers are being incorporated into various products without any consent whatsoever of commercializing it from its actual owners.

The document further listed over 24 sellers, who were actively infringing over original artwork /  famous brands and logos without any permission and raking in illegal profits from stolen designs.

The complete list of the sellers can be found here.

However, within hours of filing the petition, Flipkart removed those sellers. Though, the number of sellers in the list was later updated with others too who are selling such products, on which Flipkart hasn’t taken any action yet.

We reached out to Sanjay Gupta to know more about this. Here are the excerpts from the communication:

Inc42: Have you tried using official channels of Flipkart to complain about this issue? If yes, what kind of response did you receive?

Sanjay:  Yes, not only Artists  / Designers / World Renowned Brands are constantly trying to reach out to flipkart.com for removal of products which blatantly violate the trademark and copyright laws but ARPS too has been raising its collective voice of Visual Artists in India and Abroad continuously for quite some time demanding proper justice to this matter of grave concern and also asking for Immediate Ban of sellers who are involved in these illegal activities for short term gains.

The only response we have so far got is that Flipkart will take action on it but so far nothing has been done. What happens in requests like these is that Flipkart takes down the seller as out of stock for some time but they again come back when issue gets cold. We clearly demand this time that all these sellers involved should be completely banned from selling any product on Flipkart and also a public notice mentioning that the same has been done.

This is a serious concern from all designers and brands that how can this piracy of artwork be stopped. Best action will be to immediately Remove and Ban all these sellers to show as an example to the world that Flipkart is serious on this matter and also follow copyright guidelines.

Inc42: In terms of numbers, can you highlight how big this issue is? How much loss are the artists facing?

Sanjay: In terms of Numbers let me quote you a few examples which will show the true picture on this matter:

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In product categories like Posters | Framed Posters: there are more than ten sellers who are selling more than 1000 products without any official or authentic license.

In product categories of laptop skin: More than 12 sellers are selling 5000+ products which incorporate famous logos like Barcelona, Porsche, Ferrari without any license or whatsoever.

Our claim of Copyright Act violation is evident by the fact that whenever asked for an official license, these sellers tend to make products out of stock immediately and again come back after some time despite failing to provide any certificate of original permission or license, whichever applies.

In total, approximately more than 20 sellers with products totaling more than 10,000+ are being sold openly unofficially and being commercialized without any consent from original artists or brands. Our volunteers are also digging deep into the products of other marketplaces as well and I will get back to you once we get sufficient and relevant data.

Inc42: Anything else relevant that you could tell us regarding this matter?

Sanjay: This time we have been forced to publicly file a petition at change.org platform so that the collective voice of all designers and artists / brands is being heard and demand Complete Removal of Sellers and their products from Flipkart permanently to set an example for everyone who intends to do fair business and look forward to long term goals instead of short term illegal gains.

As per our current knowledge, Flipkart has already put every seller mentioned as out of stock and are trying to remove their products from their search Index to hide the issue. We want you and everyone else who intends to create a favorable environment for Creative Artists / Designers  / Brands who want to commercialize their hard work and do business on online marketplaces in a fair manner to join us in this Campaign and support us in the best possible way by getting enacted the demands of Original Artists.

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We have reached out Sachin Bansal, however his reply on this matter is awaited.

But, that’s not enough, there are a number of sellers who are selling copyright infringed products on the website apart from these 24, against whom no such step have been taken by Flipkart yet.

This is not the first time Flipkart has been caught in trouble of this type. Just a few months back, an artist named Nitin Rao Kumblekar, had blamed that one of the sellers on Flipkart had taken his artwork and used it on a mobile phone cover being sold on Flipkart’s marketplace.

Being a marketplace where thousands and lakhs of products are being listed, for such issues Flipkart has something called Flipkart Infringement Verification to solve such issues, which allows IP owners to “report on listings that infringe their rights.”

According to which, “Flipkart does not and cannot verify that sellers have the right or ability to sell or distribute their listed products. However, Flipkart is committed to removing infringing or unlicensed products once an authorized representative of the rights owner properly reports them to Flipkart. FIV works to ensure that item listings do not infringe upon the copyright, trademark or other intellectual property rights of third parties. FIV participants have the ability to identify and request removal of allegedly infringing products and materials.”

As per the IT Act of 2000, which was amended in 2008 with a “Notice & Takedown” mechanism for intermediary liability, when a company is notified about any such incidence, it becomes necessary for the intermediary to remove the content within 36 hours, but also has an option to check and verify the complaint registered. In that case the intermediary can ask for the copyright certificate as well.

Flipkart on its part removed the sellers, which was right, but in a case where a number of products are listed and sold every day, no one can take account of what products are copyright infringed and these only come to light when someone reports about the same.

Adding on, what about the products which have already been sold so far on the platform? In the petition, Mr. Sanjay has pointed out that Flipkart should distribute royalty to the original creators of the products that have been sold till now to gain trust and create a favourable environment. Well, let’s see if that is possible from Flipkart’s end or not.

These kind of issues are common now with the growing marketplace setups in the country, number of sellers just replicate other’s designs and list the products on multiple marketplaces. Artists on the other hand who puts in efforts to make and build designs comes on the sufferer’s side. Shouldn’t there be some other rigorous measures introduced by the marketplaces to ensure that these don’t happen again? Will there ever be mechanisms where these sellers are asked to share the copyright prior to listing their products?

Note: We at Inc42 take our ethics very seriously. More information about it can be found here.