Amazon filed two lawsuits Thursday against alleged counterfeiters who tried use the retail giant's platform to sell copies of belts made by designer Salvatore Ferragamo. The Italian luxury brand joined in the lawsuits, taking on a group of individuals and businesses largely based in China.
The alleged counterfeiting scheme involved creating third-party seller accounts on the Amazon platform and offering the fraudulent belts for sale. The sellers were able to elude Amazon's automatic counterfeit detection process by omitting any words referring to the Ferragamo brand in their posts, and instead calling the items things like, "Men's comfort leather fashion belt," according to the lawsuit. The accompanying picture would show a belt with a Ferragamo trademarked design.
The lawsuits, one of several filed in the past year alleging counterfeiting rings, ask the court to order the defendants never to sell on Amazon again. They also demand the defendants give Ferragamo the revenues they gained from fraudulent sales and pay the brand's legal costs. The sellers continue to create new accounts and try to sell the counterfeit goods. Amazon itself isn't liable under consumer protection laws for the sale of illegal goods by third-party sellers.
"We do not allow counterfeit products in our store, and we have made it crystal clear that we take aggressive action to hold accountable bad actors who attempt to evade our proactive protections," said Amazon's vice president of customer trust and partner support, Dharmesh Mehta, in a statement. Mehta cited the ongoing work of Amazon's counterfeit crimes unit, adding, "We will continue to fight to protect intellectual property from small family-owned businesses through Fortune 500 companies."
The defendants in one lawsuit are named as Zhoa Hao Jun and Zhang Lianfa and respectively went by seller names zhaoha032ojun and cangzhoushuofengdianzikejiZZ, as well as another seller with the account name cangzhoushuofengdianzikejiyouxiangongsi. All are believed to reside in China. In the second lawsuit, the two individual defendants are named as Li Yong, with account name Phil Baldine; and Wu Pianpian, with account name Hefei Yanzi Trading Company. Both are believed to have ties to the US and China. Two additional accounts are named, Yantaitianmingwangluokejiyouxiangongsi and Hefeizanzishangmaoyouxiangongsi. CNET wasn't able to reach the defendants for comment.
Counterfeiting has dogged Amazon's reputation for years, and in March 2020 Mehta took the prevalence of fakes for sale on the Amazon store. Since then, Amazon has formed its counterfeit crimes unit to on its site. The company has also filed a lot of lawsuits against counterfeiters, most of whom likely reside in China. Thursday's legal complaints follow similar lawsuits Amazon filed Wednesday along with US card game maker Dutch Blitz. Amazon has gone after alleged counterfeiters in at least 11 lawsuits since 2019, and filed after starting the anti-counterfeiting team.about
The company also launched a brand registry in 2017 that lets trademark owners sell on Amazon and requires higher scrutiny for other third-party sellers who want to sell trademarked merchandise to prove the goods are legitimate. It also created Project Zero in 2019, a service for vendors that lets them find and remove counterfeit goods for sale on Amazon, and feed the data about the fraudulent accounts into Amazon's AI system for identifying counterfeits. Amazon says it has invested more than $500 million in fighting counterfeits on its platform since 2019.
Consumer advocates warn that Amazon doesn't have a strong enough incentive to rein in copied or illegal goods, which don't just put customers at risk of purchasing a counterfeit leather belt. A Wall Street Journal investigation turned up thousands of questionable or knock-off products for sale from third-party sellers, including an inclined infant sleep mat the FDA warned could lead to suffocation. Changing consumer protection laws to hold e-commerce platforms liable should be on the table, said David Friedman, vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports, in testimony before members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
"Congress should very carefully consider proposals to give platforms more legal incentive to police and respond to abuse, including incurring liability when they are, or should be, reasonably aware of dangerous products or illegal behavior on their platforms."
The Shop Safe Act, a 2020 bill that would have created liability for companies like Amazon when third-party sellers hawk illegal goods, didn't advance to a vote in the House of Representatives.