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Amazon sues sellers for issuing bogus takedown requests on competitors

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Amazon has filed three lawsuits against groups that it claims were abusing its takedown system by filing thousands of illegitimate copyright complaints against other products in a bid to get people to buy their merchandise instead. In an announcement on Thursday, the company calls the lawsuits a “new offensive against bad actors.”

According to the lawsuits (which you can read here, here, and here), the alleged bad actors didn’t just file fake complaints and then sit back and wait to see if they worked. Amazon says the parties also “created fake, disposable websites, with product images scraped from the Amazon store” and tried to use them as evidence that they were the legitimate copyright holders. There is a sort of dark humor here — it takes an impressive level of audacity to literally copy an image and then present it as evidence that the person you copied it from is stealing from you.

Amazon says the alleged fraudsters were involved in a web of fake sites and trademarks

Amazon accuses one defendant, which was registered under the name “Sidesk,” of taking things even further. The complaint says it used a “fraudulent” trademark application to get into the Amazon Brand Registry program, which lets companies search for and manage scans of fraudulent listings that copy their products. Amazon claims the US Patent and Trademark Office had canceled the trademark application but that Sidesk used it anyway.

The rabbit hole goes even deeper with Sidesk. That trademark application was allegedly filed by a company called Shenzhen Huanyee Intellectual Property Co., Ltd., which the Patent and Trademark Office ended up sanctioning for “filing over 15,800 trademark applications using false, fictitious, or fraudulent domicile information and/or credentials,” according to the lawsuit.

According to Amazon’s lawsuits, Sidesk was also by far the worst offender for filing takedown requests, with around 3,850. The others, Dhuog and Vivcic, allegedly filed 229 and 59, respectively, in the course of a few months. According to the suits, they were occasionally successful. “In limited circumstances, Defendants’ scheme worked and materials related to some product listings were temporarily taken down from the Amazon Store in response to Defendants’ invalid complaints.”

Amazon’s systems for dealing with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA) takedown requests obviously have legitimate uses — if someone were to try selling a shirt with Mickey Mouse on it, Disney would have the legal right to take it down since it owns the copyright on the character (for now). But as these cases show, it can be difficult to walk the line between making it easy for legitimate claimants to get products taken down and creating a system that bad actors can abuse. Amazon says it “has a number of robust protections in place to detect and stop bad actors from attempting to submit fake and abusive notices of infringement,” but nothing is perfect.

It’s not just an Amazon problem, though. YouTubers have long complained that the site’s copyright claiming system lets companies and scammers file illegitimate claims to extort a creator or take their ad revenue, often (but not always) without any real consequences. If Amazon’s suits are successful, they may act as a deterrent for people looking to abuse its systems.

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