Love him or hate him, let it not be said the U.S. Trade Representative screws around. There’s really only one reason why a public company like Amazon ends up on the USTR’s “Notorious Markets” list and that’s because they tried really hard to get on there. And also because they managed–in a nightmare on K Street–to talk their way out of it in the past. But yet, Amazon made the cut and is in the company of MP3Juices, ThePirateBay and Torrentz2–you know, fighting against censorship by Hollywood, baby.
And this needs to be said again and again, when Amazon sells pirate goods and counterfeits, the consumer is absolutely threatened particularly given the COVID crisis. So are the artists and songwriters who don’t get paid for sales on Amazon anymore than they don’t get paid for sales (ad supported, subscription or otherwise) on the well known pirate sites that Amazon is now aligned with. You know who does make money? Jeff Bezos and Amazon stockholders. Bezos is, after all the richest man in the world.
You’ll read a lot of filtered stuff by Amazon apologists, but the fact is Amazon has been a market for counterfeits and pirated records for a long time. (Try this exercise: Search for “live” recordings in the “address unknown” mechanical royalty lists and then see how many of those tracks are on albums and how many of those albums are being sold on Amazon. Better than 50/50 odds they are pirates, and good luck trying to get them taken down from Amazon.)
Politico spoke with an Amazon spokesperson about the notorious markets classification. Amazon’s position is that this is simply retaliation by the Trump administration in his vendetta against owner Jeff Bezos.
“This purely political act is another example of the administration using the U.S. government to advance a personal vendetta against Amazon,” the spokesperson says….
Nice try, but it’s not going to work. We’ve all known about Amazon the pirate bazaar for years, and someone is finally doing something about it. Is there also a political dimension? Maybe. But no one forced Bezos to buy the Washington Post and no one also forced him to do things in his personal life that would get anyone else’s security clearance pulled in a nanosecond. And no one forced him to traffic in pirated goods. In fact, Bezos probably isn’t forced to do much of anything at all.
AAFA would like to emphasize that Amazon’s engagement is certainly an important component of addressing intellectual property and brand protection issues on the platform. However, engagement only goes so far—Amazon needs to go further, by demonstrating the commitment to the resources and leadership necessary to make their brand protection programs scalable, transparent, and most importantly, effective.
AAFA members continue to report that it is a constant struggle to maintain a clean marketplace on Amazon platforms and that Amazon does little to vet sellers on its platform. Anyone can become a seller with too much ease, and it is often misleading and difficult to interpret who the seller is. Members emphasize that from a consumer standpoint, it is hard to decipher from whom the purchase is being made. All of these blurred lines only serve to allow Amazon to further their sales while evading accountability, and ultimately, liability.
And that’s the point that the USTR makes in Politico:
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro has also criticized Amazon and Bezos for not doing more to stop the sale of counterfeit goods.
“Jeff Bezos could, in the blink of an eye, put a complete halt to the counterfeiting that Amazon is facilitating,” Navarro told The Washington Post in February. “It’s a rare occurrence where a single individual can have an enormous impact on the issue — but so far, it’s ‘see no evil.’”
The normal notorious markets process is that the USTR doesn’t just make this up. USTR may choose to act or not on information supplied to the office by the public, but it usually doesn’t come out of nowhere and it’s usually not arbitrary.
And however Amazon may spin it, it looks like it didn’t happen that way this time, either. Here’s what the USTR actually says:
AMAZON’S FOREIGN DOMAINS
Nominated as amazon.ca, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de, amazon.fr, and amazon.in.
Submissions by right holders expressed concerns regarding the challenges related to combating counterfeits with respect to e-commerce platforms around the world. One submission specifically highlighted examples 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. (September 30, 2019 Submission of American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA).)
For example, 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. [Sound familiar?] 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. [Kind of like…someone else we know.]
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. More specifically, they ask that Amazon take additional actions to address their concerns, including by collecting sufficient information from sellers to prevent repeat infringers [there’s that word again] 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 of counterfeits by right holders, and being more proactive in preventing counterfeit goods from appearing on the platform.
Pirates sell on Amazon for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks–because that’s where the money is. And I would add for the same reason that Kim Dot Com was arrested and will eventually stand trial in the U.S. for his crimes: If you get down on your knees and beg to be arrested, don’t be surprised if you are.
Amazon did everything but beg to be put on the list and now we expect them to clean up their act and get off the list. USTR told them why they’re there–little guys complained to USTR–and what they need to do to get off–clean up their act. Complaining to the USTR is one of the few things that a “little guy” can do to fight the richest man in the world.
You’re damn right Amazon should be on the list. They should have been long ago. Let’s see if they do anything about it. They haven’t so far and my bet is that they still won’t because they’re making too much money receiving stolen goods.
And whatever could come next, Toto?