When you think about controversial websites, Etsy probably ranks somewhere between Better Homes & Gardens and a page of puppy GIFs. And yet, this week, the land of handmade wedding veils and artisan salt shakers came under fire after homemade electronics maker Brendan Byrne complained that his store – his primary source of income – had been suspended because Etsy was suspicious about the authenticity of his DIY goods. The site required him to send in a series of photos showing the process of making one of his synthesizers – something Byrne says is never mentioned in Etsy’s terms of service.
So, what does Etsy’s terms of service say on this matter (and a bunch more)? Time to dig in.
Etsy has a mind-boggling set of rules for sellers. Most of them are fairly straight forward, but even a quick glance at the site’s terms of service provides a sense of how easy it would be for an Etsy shop owners to get lost. Fortunately, the document itself is clearly written, and additional pages offer more in-depth looks at the regulations. But put all together, it’s a wonder that anyone chooses to use Etsy at all.
Given the breadth of the Etsy rules, we’re only going to focus on the most confusing and potentially problematic provisions.
Dos & Don’ts
One of the supplemental documents Etsy supplies to shop owners is its “Dos & Don’ts of Etsy” page, which explains “the ins and outs, the ups and downs (and everything in between) of being a member of the Etsy community.” This document, which is just as binding as the ToS itself, is also just as long and twisted as the ToS, and it would be redundant to run through all this as well. But I will say, if you’re thinking of opening an Etsy store, read this first – then decide if it’s all worth it.
A-OK (or not)
The one area of the Dos & Don’ts we will jump into is the “Handmade by you” section, as this directly applies to the Byrne’s predicament. Basically, everything on Etsy must be “handmade by you,” unless it is a “vintage” item, or simply craft supplies that others can use to make their own stuff. (“Handmade” includes “digital goods” or files.) If Etsy flags your merchandise, your account may be investigated, suspended, or terminated – as Byrne knows all too well.
Etsy kicks off with a few basic stipulations: You have to be 18-years-old, or have expressed permission from a parent or guardian, to have an Etsy store. You alone are responsible for keeping your password a secret. Your account info has to stay up-to-date. And you aren’t allowed to transfer ownership of your Etsy account to another person.
Pick and choose
Etsy is very careful about who can and cannot use its service. Some users may be temporarily suspended from the site. Others may never be able to use Etsy again. The site generally has a reason for banning such individuals. But it doesn’t have to have a good reason: “Etsy reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason, at any time.”
Hand it over
Etsy has a whole “fees policy” that is technically apart of its ToS. Here are the basics: Etsy charges sellers a fee $0.20 just for posting an item, and an additional $0.40 fee if there are multiples of the same item. It gets 3.5 percent cut of every sale on Etsy. Users who choose to take advantage of Etsy’s “direct checkout” process will also be charged a 3 percent fee, plus $0.25 for every transaction processed through direct checkout.
Shop owners will be sent a monthly bill with all fees and transaction payouts included. These bills must be paid by the 15th of every month. Oh, and if Etsy suspends or cancels your account for any reason, you still owe the company for your fees.
Can it sell?
In addition to the requirements that goods on Etsy be either handmade by the seller, old, or craft supplies, Etsy also mandates that all information about the goods you’re selling be completely accurate (duh), that they don’t infringe on anyone else’s copyright (though you can probably find quite a few items on the site that do), and not be illegal in any way (also duh). All items must also be tagged appropriately – failure to do so is a violation of its Dos & Don’ts and ToS.
On the subject of tagging, Etsy does allow “mature” items to be sold on the site, but they must be tagged as such. “Mature” does not include pornography, however, which is strictly forbidden.
Etsy does, of course, have a big list of items that are not allowed on the site. They are, according to the Dos & Don’ts:
- Tobacco and other smokeable products
- Drugs, medical drug claims about an item, drug paraphernalia
- Live animals, illegal animal products
- Human remains or body parts (excluding hair and teeth)
- Firearms and/or weapons
- Hazardous materials (for example: flammable, explosive, corrosive, poisonous, etc.)
- Recalled items
- Real estate
- Motor vehicles (for example: automobiles, motorcycles, boats, travel trailers, etc.)
- Items or listings that promote, support or glorify hatred toward or otherwise demean people based upon: race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation; including items or content that promote organizations with such views
- Items or listings that promote or support illegal activity or instruct others to engage in illegal activity
- Items or listings that promote, support or glorify acts of violence or harm towards self or others
Etsy also requires that users must make additional “moral or ethical decisions regarding what they buy and sell on Etsy,” though something tells us that most people won’t have too many qualms about the exchange of pottery, floral bow ties, or much else on Etsy.
You’ve been flagged
The main area of potential abuse in the Etsy system is its flagging feature. Any user may flag a seller or item for violating Etsy’s rules. But this can be done – indeed, it must be done, according to the regulations – entirely in private. This means that Etsy sellers can flag competing vendors to get a leg up on their particular market. Whether Etsy takes action is entirely dependent upon the company’s employees. It seems to me that the flagging process should, at least on some level, be far more transparent to avoid abuse.