Amazon subpoenaed in counterfeit textbook case

E-commerce behemoth Amazon has been subpoenaed by three education textbook publishers as part of a lawsuit against alleged counterfeiters selling cheap bogus copies on the online marketplace.

The subpoena seeks that Amazon reveal the names and financial accounts of the alleged counterfeiters, the Financial Times reports.

The court order comes as part of a case filed earlier this month by Cengage Learning, McGraw Hill Education and Pearson Education, who are suing 100 unnamed Amazon vendors for copyright infringement. Amazon has not been named as a defendant.

While the names of the genuine sellers are unknown, the lawsuit names 30 storefront accounts that allegedly sold the fraudulent copies of the books.

The publishers claim that the vendors are "hiding behind the anonymity of internet pseudonyms" and selling counterfeit books on Amazon at prices "too good to be true". The illicit practice, they say, is damaging their businesses as the counterfeiters profit from the publishers' reputations and goodwill, especially as the conmen appear to take advantage of the 'Fulfilment by Amazon' service.

The plaintiffs claim the counterfeiters are misleading the public as to the authenticity of the product and several buyers of the counterfeits have complained about the poor quality of the books, posting their comments online.

Amazon has also been ordered to freeze the accounts of the accused sellers and to block the sale of any books coming from their storefronts. A temporary restraining order has also been granted banning the alleged counterfeiters from selling any books or infringing the publishers' copyrights.

According to the FT, nearly all the accused storefronts had now been removed from Amazon.

"Amazon has zero tolerance for the sale of counterfeit items on our site. We are taking legal action and aggressively pursuing bad actors," said Erik Farleigh, an Amazon spokesman.

Despite this zero-tolerance stance, the online marketplace has been in the spotlight recently over the presence of fake reviews and the sale of fake goods, from music albums to Apple-branded iPhone chargers.

The e-commerce giant is already facing legal action. At the end of last year, a US family sued the firm for $30m alleging that a hoverboard toy that was bought off Amazon was counterfeit and caught fire, destroying the family's $1m home.

Then several as-seen-on-TV firms, including the makers of the Snuggie blanket, sued the online marketplace, claiming trademark infringement from "astronomical" numbers of counterfeiters. And it has also been slapped with a $50m lawsuit by iconic hip hop group Run-DMC, which claims the retailer did not have permission to sell Run-DMC branded and logo-bearing products, which it says are rip-offs.

But the marketplace has stepped up efforts to crackdown on counterfeits. It has filed lawsuits against two vendors allegedly selling fake goods, as well as introducing listing fees and other administrative measures. It is also working on a new suite of digital tools to help protect smaller sellers and is currently working to make a stricter registration process for listing goods.

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