SAN FRANCISCO — Alibaba.com Inc. has been hit with a class action lawsuit claiming that its network of e-commerce websites is home to rampant copyright infringement of visual artwork.
The lawsuit brought on behalf of professional Indiana artist Michel Keck seeks to certify a class of copyright holders who have seen their work copied and sold on Alibaba’s network of websites. The 81-page complaint, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, spins a Kafkaesque tale about Keck’s attempts to get dozens of China-based sellers to stop selling knock-offs and copies of her work—primarily modern abstract canvas prints that feature dog portraits and religious themes.
Keck claims she first became aware that sellers in China were offering unauthorized copies of her work on Alibaba sites at “significantly lower” prices than she was charging after receiving a tip in late 2015 from an art dealer who had stopped buying paintings from her. Keck claims that she repeatedly filled out online forms to report the alleged infringement to Alibaba, only to run into error messages, requests for documentation, or messages in Chinese. Often, she claims, she simply received no response.
According to the complaint, Keck eventually contacted officials at the U.S. embassy in Beijing in November 2016, who then put her in contact with IP officials with the company based in the United States, who ultimately routed her back through the company’s official channels in China. One of Keck’s lawyers, Doris Cheng of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, said in a phone interview Tuesday that despite the effort, her client’s copyrighted works are still being infringed.
“We’re not seeing any systems in place to deal with the level of infringement by sellers on the sites,” said Cheng, whose firm filed suit alongside lawyers at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings and Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton in Birmingham, Alabama. “Alibaba knows that there’s a problem.”
Representatives for Alibaba didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Alibaba for years has faced allegations that its network of sites have allowed counterfeiters to traffic in knock-offs of branded goods. But the company seemed to have turned a corner in August when it reached a deal with the company behind luxury brands such as Gucci and Saint Laurent to establish a task force to work with law enforcement and share information to combat counterfeiting.
The new suit from Keck seeks to certify a class of all copyright holders of pictorial, graphic, or visual works who have had at least one of their works sold on an Alibaba site without authorization as well as subclasses of those who have attempted to provide notice of infringement to Alibaba.
“The evidence demonstrates the extreme carelessness that Alibaba showed, in fact, just ignoring” Keck’s notices, Cheng said. “That’s how this came to be a lawsuit.”