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Etsy closes store over 'handmade' accusation

Etsy has closed down a custom synth maker on the grounds that his wares were not "handmade", in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Etsy has closed down a custom synth maker on the grounds that his wares were not "handmade", in spite of evidence to the contrary.

The synth Brendan Byrne was accused of outsourcing. (Credit: Brendan Byrne)

Five months ago, electronic artist Brendan Byrne of Xiwi Electronics opened an Etsy Store to sell his custom synthesisers and other hand-built electronics. Designed and assembled by Byrne, these devices seemed to fit quite neatly into Etsy's "handmade" policy, which details that unless labelled as being "vintage" or "supplies", all items for sale must be handmade by the seller.

This definition is actually pretty broad. Under Etsy's terms, "'handmade' can additionally be interpreted as 'hand assembled' or 'hand altered'" — a definition that was explained by Etsy in a blog post last year. "We certainly don't expect that every Etsy seller is able to own the entire production process from raw materials to finished product," the website said.

Nevertheless, Byrne was shocked to receive a notification from Etsy stating that he was suspected of selling prefabricated goods. In an email to Byrne, Etsy requested that he supply information about how many people worked in Byrne's shop, including their roles, and how much of his product fabrication was outsourced; information about the construction of a specific item in Byrne's shop, an analogue synth; and images of Byrne's work process, materials and workspace for the item.

Byrne complied with all of the above — except for step-by-step photos of the building process of the synth, which he said he had not thought to take at the time he was making it. He did, however, provide photographs of his workspace, photos of a very similar device under construction and detailed information about the synth's creation:

The wood panels and acrylic front and bottom panels were cut using a 75-watt laser cutter that I have at my disposal. I designed the enclosure in Adobe Illustrator. The PCB was sourced from Music from Outer Space, an online synth hobbyist store. The owner, Ray Wilson, explicitly gives permission for the resale of his boards in finished projects. I adhere to his policies.

The knobs, potentiometers and jacks were all secured by me. I did all of the wiring, as well. Ordered the parts and soldered them all to the board, too. Easily a day's work to assemble, not including the time to design it.

One of Byrne's synths under construction, as supplied to Etsy. (Credit: Brendan Byrne)

This information, however, failed appease Etsy's representative, who replied, "In order for us to have sufficient information, we need to see images of the specific item we inquired about in our previous message being made from beginning to completion." Since Byrne could not, and in fact said he would not even if he could, provide these photos, Etsy remained adamant that his store remain closed. This is despite the fact that nowhere in Etsy's terms of service does it state that photographs of a seller's build process may be required at any given time.

"It just so happens I don't want Etsy to know exactly how I go about constructing my electronics and especially the enclosures," Byrne said in a blog post. "I realised this was an intellectual property issue, and that Etsy was making an unfair and undocumented demand of me."

The full email exchange between Byrne and Etsy can be found on Byrne's blog. CNET Australia has contacted Etsy for comment, and we will update this story when we have more information.

Looking for an alternative marketplace? Check out 10 Etsy alternatives for buyers and sellers.