Art Theft, Part 2: AliExpress & Alibaba

If you've found counterfeits of your pins online, chances are it started on AliExpress or Alibaba. Because many online sellers buy counterfeit pins at wholesale prices from these two websites, it's important to cut the supply off at the source. I wrote recently about reporting infringement on other online retail websites. However, the process for Alibaba/AliExpress1 is a little more complicated and can be overwhelming.

So that's where I come in! I'm going to try to make it a little easier with this walkthrough, and hopefully it will be a useful resource for other artists who are fighting art theft.

STEP 1: Create an account

  1. Go to Intellectual Property Protection on Alibaba and click on "Create User Account"
  2. Fill in your email address, then click the activation link emailed to you

STEP 2: Verify your identity

  1. Choose your region: "others"2
  2. Category of user identity: "Individual Outside Mainland China"
  3. Category of registrant: "Right Holder"
  4. Fill in your full legal name
  5. Fill in your mailing address or PO box3
  6. Type of identity proof: "Identity proof of applicant"
  7. Upload your identity proof. The instructions say that it must be a color photo or scan of your passport, but in my experience any government-issued photo ID will do. I used my drivers license.
  8. Save and submit.

STEP 3: Wait a while

It typically takes several days for Alibaba to manually review and approve your identity information. Until they complete this process, you won't be able to do anything else yet. As soon as you have been approved, you will receive an email confirmation with the subject line "Identity proof has been successfully authenticated!"

STEP 4: Submit your IPR (Do this for each piece of art you're protecting)

  1. Once your identity has been verified, log in and click "IPR submission" in the left-hand menu
  2. Select the IPR type: "Copyright"
  3. Choose the place of IPR registration: "Others"
  4. Click "next"
  5. Name of the work you submitted: Write the title of your work
  6. Serial/Registration number of the work you submitted: If you've registered the copyright for your work, put the registration number here. If you haven't registered your copyright,4 put N/A or "Registration not required in [your country]".
  7. Copyright holder of the work you submitted: Your name (should match the identity info you provided)
  8. Upload your work and supporting documents: If you have a copyright registration certificate, upload that here. If you don't have that, fill out the form they provide (or get it here) and upload that form plus images of your work. For evidence of publication to go along with that form, you may need a screenshot of the product listing on your website or the first time you posted it on Instagram, for instance.5
  9. Submit for verification

STEP 5: Wait some more

This wait is usually a little quicker than the wait for identity verification. In my experience, it's been 2-3 business days.

STEP 6: Submit complaints (the moment you've been waiting for!)

  1. Once your IPR has been authenticated, log in and click "Submit a complaint" in the left-hand menu
  2. Choose the complaint website where you found the counterfeits you're reporting6
  3. Search for the counterfeit listing(s) or paste the URL. (As I mentioned in my earlier post, when I find infringing listings I add them to a spreadsheet right away, so all I have to do during this step is copy/paste the list into the "Option 2" field.) These should all be for counterfeits of a single design.7
  4. Click "Submit Listings"
  5. The links you submitted will automatically fill the next page. Select all them and click "Continue".
  6. Choose IPR: Select the IPR that matches the listings you submitted
  7. Choose complaint reason: Pirated copy
  8. Complaint reason: I usually write "This is an exact counterfeit copy of my original work." If your situation is different, just be sure you explain concisely and clearly.
  9. Upload proof of infringement: I don't upload anything because they already have my copyright registration certificate and the infringing URL, so I'm not sure if you need to do this.
  10. Click "Match"

STEP 7: Check back in a few days

You probably won't get an email confirmation when they've removed the reported listings, so I like to check back to make sure the listings have actually been taken down.

  1. Log in
  2. Click on "Manage complaints"
  3. Choose the website
  4. Click on "History" in the left-hand menu.

You'll see a list of your past complaints. To the right of each of them, it'll either say "In progress", "Listing removed", or "Unable to process". "In progress" means they're still reviewing it, "listing removed" means it's been taken down for good and the seller has been penalized, and "unable to process" usually means that the seller removed it before they were able to investigate.

--

That's it! I know it seems daunting at first, but most of the work is just setting up your account and one-time verifications. After that, all you need to do is step 6 (submit complaints) and boom! Once I started reporting AliExpress sellers, I noticed an immediate decrease in counterfeits across all websites where I normally see them.

One final note. I strongly recommend against contacting AliExpress or Alibaba sellers directly. Intellectual property theft is a crime and should be reported through Alibaba's intellectual property protection system. When you submit an official complaint, there are consequences for sellers.8 If enough artists report the same seller, that seller could lose their selling privileges altogether-- a serious situation for most manufacturers of counterfeits. The threat of account removal is a very strong disincentive, and my hope is that counterfeiting activity will decrease over time as a result.

If we all work together, we can make life better for artists everywhere!

💪💪

Did this guide work for you? Have any questions or additions? Let me know in the comments!


  1. This also includes Alibaba-owned sites like Taobao, Tmall, and 1688. 

  2. For these steps, I'm assuming you're not based in China. 

  3. If you're not comfortable providing your address, PO boxes are available for rent at most post offices and UPS stores. 

  4. Most countries don't require copyright registration. Remember, you own the rights to your original work from the moment you create it. 

  5. Caveat: I've never done it that way, since I always register my copyrights and provide the registration certificate. Others have told me they've successfully registered their work without a registration certificate, so I know it can be done! Let me know if I need to adjust any of these instructions based on your experience. 

  6. Most of mine are on Aliexpress, but I've found a few on Alibaba and Taobao. 

  7. You can repeat the complaint process if you need to report counterfeits of another design as well. 

  8. Alibaba uses a points system. Every time you report a listing that infringes your copyright, that seller receives 6 penalty points. Their listings will be suppressed in search if they continue to receive points. After 48 cumulative points, their account will be terminated. So basically, each Alibaba seller has 8 chances to stop counterfeiting. I think that's more than fair. 

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