I sell party supplies with custom designs. The designs come from freelance artists I hire for the task. I've been selling a set of plates for Amazon with my custom designs, and they've been doing very well. But now it looks like someone picked up on how successful they were, because someone in China is now selling the exact same size/shape plates with an exact copy of my design (it looks like they simply scanned my design and put it on their plate). They're selling them on this marketplace: https://world.taobao.com/
China is notoriously defiant regards to US intellectual property rights. Taking action directly against those entities may be quite futile.
When you have others contribute creative expression as you note here you need to ensure that all the underlying copyright interest transfer to you through a written work-for-hire/assignment agreement. These rights do not transfer automatically unless the provider is a bona fide W2 employee.
The best defense is probably sending properly formatted DMCA Take Down notices to platforms and ISPs where they are selling the infringing products. You can look up guides online on how to do this as well.
Note further, that we are assuming that you actually have an infringement claim. Not every design is covered under copyright. For example, general shapes and common designs may not be considered an original work of authorship, but as you say you hired people to create these so I would assume they possess sufficient creative expression in your case.
I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC on the basis of this posting.
If you are the copyright owner of the design then you can file it with customs and try to stop them from coming into the country at the border.
Chinese manufacturers of counterfeit and infringing products are pretty mch immune, sinc even if you were to go to the trouble of hiring Chinese counsel, the lIP aws in China are hard to enforce.
So that leaves you with a couple of options: stopping the imports through the U.S. Customs office, and going after U.S. sellers of these knock offs through DMCA takedown notices and through demands seeking damages and an injunction and/or litigation, if indeed you own copyrights to the "custom" designs.
As noted, that means you have contracts in place with the creators you've hired, you've registered these designs and have valid certificates, and the designs are themselves either lacking in originality or infringements of someone else's pre-existing designs.
Your best bet is to see your own IP lawyer for help.
Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.
To be sure, what the other attorneys who have responded to your query are correct about prerequisites and actions you can take from here in the US. But, China is also a member of the Berne convention, among others, so if you do actually own the art because the artists qualify as employees rather than as independent contractors or you have valid world-wide rights via assignment or license from them, you should be able to register your copyrights and/or licenses in China, and sue the infringers in China (if you can find them!). Following is a link to an article on the fundamentals of copyright law and registration in China. by a Chinese copyright attorney with their contact info. It would cost you nothing to email the Chinese copyright attorney and see if they respond: http://www.worldipreview.com/contributed-article/copyright-registration-in-china-a-two-pronged-approach
I concur with the answers provided above. However, if you expand your inventory into fashion, keep in mind that there are even fewer protections for knock offs in the fashion industry, even in the United States. You can copyright a print or original construction, but your defenses are slim.
If your designs are registered with the Copyright Office, you can file a claim with the International Trade Commission. The ITC investigates imported infringing goods and can issue exclusion orders to be enforced by Customs and Border Protection as well as cease and desist orders to infringing parties. These remedies are US domestic however, as it is difficult, if not impossible or impractical to enforce your IP rights in China. If you find the infringing product in the US, you may also sue the infringers for damages.
Please consider consulting an intellectual property attorney to discuss your specific situation to see if there are any feasible and practical solutions.
The answer above is not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is intended to be formed by providing the general information. Please consider consulting an attorney licensed to practice in your state for legal advice specific and appropriate to your situation.
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