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US trade office adds foreign domains of Amazon, including in India, to “notorious markets” list

PTI, Apr 30, 2020, 7:57 AM IST

Washington: The Trump administration on Wednesday, April 29 placed five foreign domains of Amazon, including the one in India, to its “notorious markets” list, accusing the global e-commerce giant of engaging in substantial trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy.

The Seattle-based company strongly objected to the decision by the US Trade Representatives (USTR), dismissing it as a purely “political act” and “personal vendetta” against Amazon.

“We strongly disagree with the characterization of Amazon in this USTR report. This purely political act is another example of the Administration using the US government to advance a personal vendetta against Amazon,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

Placing the five foreign domains Canada, Germany, France, India and United Kingdom in its list of 38 global online markets that are reported to be engaged in or facilitate substantial trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy, USTR said that submissions by right holders have expressed concerns regarding the challenges related to combating counterfeits with respect to e-commerce platforms around the world.

“One submission specifically highlighted the example of the challenges right holders face with alleged high levels of counterfeit goods on the e-commerce platforms amazon.ca in Canada, amazon.de in Germany, amazon.fr in France, amazon.in in India, and amazon.co.uk in the United Kingdom,” it said.

“The right holders expressed concern that the seller information displayed by Amazon is often misleading such that it is difficult for consumers and right holders alike to determine who is selling the goods and that anyone can become a seller on Amazon with too much ease because Amazon does not sufficiently vet sellers on its platforms,” the USTR report said.

“They also commented that Amazon’s counterfeit removal processes can be lengthy and burdensome, even for right holders that enroll in Amazon’s brand protection programs,” it added.

“In addition, as the scale and sophistication of the counterfeiters have continued to grow and evolve over the years, these right holders indicate that Amazon should commit the resources necessary to make their brand protection programs scalable, transparent, and most importantly, effective,” the report noted.

“More specifically, they ask that Amazon take additional actions to address their concerns, including by collecting sufficient information from sellers to prevent repeat infringers from creating multiple storefronts on the platforms, making detailed information about the real seller of a product obvious to consumers and right holders, being more responsive to complaints,” the USTR said.

It said that in its Federal Register Notice, the USTR did not request submissions on US-based e-commerce platforms and online third-party marketplaces, such as Amazon.com.

“However, the administration has been looking further at their role following the issuance in April 2019 of a Presidential Memorandum addressing trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods,” it said.

Strongly disagreeing with the report, an Amazon spokesperson said that the company makes significant investments in proactive technologies and processes to detect and stop bad actors and potentially counterfeit products from being sold in its stores.

“In 2019 alone, we invested over USD 500 million and have more than 8,000 employees protecting our store from fraud and abuse. We also stopped over 2.5 million suspected bad actors from opening Amazon selling accounts before they published a single listing for sale, blocking more than 6 billion suspected bad listings before they were published to our stores,” the spokesperson said.

“We have developed industry-leading programmes like Project Zero, Transparency, and Brand Registry for brands to partner with us and together, drive counterfeits to zero,” the spokesperson said.

More than 99.9 percent of pages viewed by customers on Amazon have never had a report of counterfeit, and this is a testament to the company’s continued innovation, collaboration, and commitment to fighting counterfeit, the spokesperson claimed.

“We also work closely with law enforcement agencies and are reporting all confirmed counterfeiters to help them build stronger criminal cases. We are an active, engaged stakeholder in the fight against counterfeit, and we call on lawmakers to increase funding and resources for law enforcement agencies so we can hold the real criminals accountable the current ramifications for tricking consumers are too weak,” the spokesperson said.

Referring to a recent report of the Department of Homeland Security, the USTR said that although the e-commerce has supported the launch of thousands of legitimate businesses, e-commerce platforms, third-party marketplaces, and their supporting intermediaries have also served as powerful stimulants for the trafficking of counterfeit and pirated goods.

Selling counterfeit and pirated goods through e-commerce platforms and related online third-party marketplaces can be a highly profitable venture, USTR observed.

“Moreover, when sellers of illicit goods are in another country, they are exposed to a relatively little risk of criminal prosecution or civil liability under current law enforcement and regulatory practices,” the report said.

“In light of these concerns, USTR believes e-commerce platforms need to take additional actions to combat trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods and reduce the availability of such goods on their platforms,” the report noted.

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