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Amazon sues merchants for false takedown demands on competitors.

Photo: Amazon

Amazon launched three lawsuits against entities it alleges were abusing its takedown system by filing thousands of fraudulent copyright complaints against other items to induce customers to buy theirs. The business called the cases a “new attack against bad actors” on Thursday.

The accused bad actors didn’t merely register phony complaints and wait to see whether they succeeded, according to the lawsuits (here, here, and here). Instead, Amazon claims the parties “built false, throwaway websites, using product photos taken from the Amazon shop” to prove their copyright ownership. It takes a lot of guts to replicate a picture and then claim that the person who copied it stole from you.

Amazon accuses “Sidesk” of going farther. The complaint claims it entered the Amazon Brand Registry program through a “fraudulent” trademark application. Amazon says Sidesk utilized the trademark after the USPTO revoked it.

Sidesk deepens the rabbit hole. The Patent and Trademark Office sanctioned Shenzhen Huanyee Intellectual Property Co., Ltd. for “filing over 15,800 trademark applications utilizing fake, fictitious, or fraudulent domicile information and/or credentials,” according to the lawsuit.

Sidesk filed 3,850 takedown requests, according to Amazon. Dhuog and Vivcic reportedly filed 229 and 59 in a few months. The suits claimed sporadic success. “In some situations, Defendants’ plan worked and materials linked to some product listings were temporarily removed from the Amazon Store in response to Defendants’ bogus complaints.”

Amazon’s DMCA takedown mechanisms have valid uses—if someone tried to sell a garment with Mickey Mouse on it, Disney could legally take it down as it owns the character’s copyright (for now). But, as these incidents demonstrate, it may be difficult to balance making it simple for legitimate claimants to get things taken down and establishing a system that criminal actors can abuse. Amazon “has several powerful measures in place to detect and prohibit bad actors from attempting to submit fraudulent and abusive reports of infringement,” but nothing is perfect.

Nevertheless, it’s not just Amazon. YouTubers have long claimed that corporations and criminals may use the site’s copyright-claiming mechanism to blackmail creators or steal their ad money without penalties. Amazon’s lawsuits may dissuade system abusers.

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