Amazon launches counterfeit crimes unit

Under pressure to stamp out listings for fake products on its websites, e-commerce giant Amazon’s latest move is to set up a dedicated counterfeit crimes unit.

The internal team of former federal prosecutors, investigators and data analysts will operate around the world and be dedicated to “investigating, finding, and launching legal action and criminal referrals against counterfeiters,” said Amazon in a statement.

The new unit comes shortly after a Texas court delivered a setback to Amazon’s long-argued position that it cannot be held liable for goods sold on its marketplace by third-party sellers, even if they are distributed via its ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ service.

It was recently also stung by the inclusion of some of its international sites in the US Trade Representative’s Special 301 list of notorious markets that allow “substantial trademark counterfeiting and copyright piracy.”

Amazon’s Canadian, French, German, Indian and UK sites were added to the list amid complaints by brand owners that they carry high levels of counterfeit goods, it can be difficult to establish exactly who is selling them, and removal processes can be “lengthy and burdensome.”

The online retailer says its new unit will investigate cases where a bad actor has attempted to evade Amazon’s systems and listed a counterfeit.

Investigators will “mine Amazon’s data, cull information from external resources such as payment service providers and open source intelligence, and leverage on-the-ground assets to connect the dots between targets,” says the company.

It claims the move will make it more effective at pursuing civil litigation against transgressors, and improve coordinated actions with brand owners and law enforcement. Last week, Amazon joined with Valentino to sue an alleged counterfeiter of the Italian luxury fashion brand’s Rockstud shoes.

In a statement, Amazon said its “first objective is to prevent a counterfeit from ever being listed in its store, and its comprehensive proactive anti-counterfeit programs have ensured that 99.9 per cent of all Amazon products viewed by customers did not have a valid counterfeit complaint.”

The company claims that last year it invested over $500m and had more than 8,000 employees fighting fraud, including counterfeit, which resulted in 6bn suspected bad listings in 2019 being blocked, with 2.5m suspected bad actor accounts taken offline before they were able to make a single product available for sale.

Last year, it launched Project Zero – aimed at using artificial intelligence and machine learning to seek out and delete suspected counterfeit listings – and the IP Accelerator programme to make it easier for smaller companies to get legal help to protect their intellectual property.

The company says it has also expanded other measures such as its Transparency serialisation scheme and Brand Registry, designed to help brand owners protect their IP and product content on Amazon.

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