Amazon has filed three lawsuits against groups it alleges abused its takedown system by filing thousands of unlawful copyright complaints against other products in an attempt to get people to buy their merchandise instead. In a statement on Thursdaythe company calls the lawsuits a “new offensive against bad actors.”
According to the lawsuits (which you can read here, hereAnd here), the alleged bad actors didn’t just file false complaints and then sit back and see if they worked. Amazon says the parties also “created fake throwaway websites with product images scraped from the Amazon store” and attempted to use them as evidence that they were the legitimate copyright holders. There’s a sort of dark humor here – it takes an impressive level of audacity to literally copy an image and then present it as proof that the person you copied it from is stealing from you.
Amazon says the alleged fraudsters were involved in a web of bogus sites and trademarks
Amazon accuses a defendant, who was registered under the name “Sidesk”, of going even further. The complaint says it used a “fraudulent” trademark application to access the Amazon Brand Registry program, which allows companies to search and manage scans of fraudulent listings that copy their products. Amazon claims the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the trademark application, but 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., whose Patent and Trademark Office ended with a penalty for “filing more than 15,800 trademark applications using false, fictitious, or fraudulent residency and/or credentials,” the lawsuit said.
Sidesk was also by far the worst offender for filing takedown requests, according to Amazon’s lawsuits, with about 3,850. The others, Dhuog and Vivcic, are said to have submitted 229 and 59 respectively over the course of a few months. According to the suits, they were occasionally successful. “In limited circumstances, Defendants’ plan worked and materials related to some product listings were temporarily removed from the Amazon Store in response to Defendants’ invalid complaints.”
Amazon’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA) system clearly has legitimate uses – if someone tried to sell a shirt with Mickey Mouse on it, Disney would have the legal right to take it down since it owns the copyrights to 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 take products offline and creating a system for malicious parties to exploit. Amazon says it has “some robust protections in place to detect and prevent adversaries from attempting to file false and abusive breach notices,” but nothing is perfect.
It’s not just an Amazon problem, though. YouTubers have long complained that the site’s copyright claim system allows companies and scammers to make illegitimate claims to extort a creator or take their ad revenue, often (but not always) with no real consequences . If Amazon’s lawsuits are successful, they could deter people who want to abuse the systems.