Amazon’s blueprint for private and public sector partnership to stop counterfeiters

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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On the one-year anniversary of its launch, the Amazon Counterfeit Crimes Unit highlights successes and outlines how governments and businesses can work together to hold counterfeiters accountable.

We believe we have a responsibility to protect consumers, brands, and our store from counterfeit products and we work hard to do that. In 2020 alone, we invested over $700 million globally and dedicated more than 10,000 employees to stopping fraud, counterfeit and abuse.

By using a combination of advanced machine learning capabilities and expert human investigators, we have built robust proactive controls to protect our store from bad actors and bad products. We have also developed powerful and industry-leading tools for brands to help ensure only authentic products are sold in our store.

Because of the significant resources Amazon has invested in anti-counterfeiting technologies and in building partnerships with brands, we have been able to provide customers with a trustworthy shopping experience where less than 0.01% of the products sold on Amazon last year received a counterfeit complaint from a customer.

While we are proud of the progress we have made, we know that counterfeiters will not stop and that we will need to keep investing and innovating to stay ahead.

Unfortunately, counterfeiting remains a persistent retail industry problem around the world. So while the prevalence of counterfeit products on Amazon may be statistically low, this issue persists throughout the retail industry and across the globe.

Counterfeiters deprive brand owners of the value of their intellectual property and compete unfairly with honest entrepreneurs. While counterfeiting is illegal in most countries, for too long, counterfeiters have not been held accountable enough for their crimes.

In 2020, we launched the Counterfeit Crimes Unit (CCU) to help hold counterfeiters accountable through the courts and through law enforcement. This global team – which is made up of former prosecutors and investigators, former FBI agents – pursues targets around the globe and supports law enforcement efforts to bring to justice those attempting to sell counterfeits in our store.

The CCU has made good progress in its first year, and has forged beneficial relationships, demonstrating that our anti-counterfeiting efforts are more effective when we work together:

  • Provided in-depth evidence of over 250 counterfeiters for criminal investigation in the European Union and elsewhere.
  • Filed civil litigation against 64 counterfeiters.
  • Disrupted counterfeiters and their supply networks through civil law suits, and joint enforcement actions.
  • Partnered to pursue counterfeiters with a wide range of brands including, GoPro, Valentino, and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Despite these successes, it has become increasingly clear that we have to make bold changes in how we work together across the private and public sectors to stop counterfeiters. Based on what we have learned from working with law enforcement to fight counterfeiters, we recommend taking the following steps:

  1. Exchange information on counterfeit activity to help stop counterfeiters at the border

Customs agencies should regularly inform fulfilment networks (like Amazon’s) when the agencies seize shipments bound for a fulfilment network, and policymakers should remove any impediments to that crucial flow of information. This would enable the network to take action on additional counterfeits and provide greater aid to law enforcement.

Similarly, Amazon supports all marketplaces and logistics providers sharing information on counterfeit activity with customs agencies to aid in their detection and seizure efforts and to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to dismantle the criminal networks behind these illicit goods.

  1. Share information about blocked counterfeiters to help the industry stop more counterfeiters earlier

While our investments to stop counterfeiters are paying off in our store, we know they are motivated and will try to quickly sell their illegal products across many other channels. In fact, as part of our litigation efforts, counterfeiters have openly stated that they are increasingly focusing on other retail channels than Amazon because of our work in stopping them.

This success is why information sharing about known counterfeiters is so important—it improves visibility and allows stores to alert one another and take action across the industry. The private sector needs to lead the way in creating a scalable solution for real-time information sharing on confirmed counterfeiters, and we encourage more companies to work with us in building these partnerships in the future.

  1. Increase resources for law enforcement to prosecute counterfeiters

In the past year, CCU has reported to global law enforcement authorities all confirmed counterfeiters that we have blocked from our store. For more than 250 counterfeiters, CCU has gone further and provided authorities with in-depth referrals and evidence. Amazon acknowledges and deeply respects the hard work of law enforcement and prosecutors in fighting counterfeits around the world.

Unfortunately, globally, counterfeit prosecution has often not been sufficiently prioritized to receive the level of resourcing and attention that is needed to stop these counterfeiters.

The European Union member states have recently returned counterfeiting as a priority in their multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats (EMPACT). We fully support this reinstatement of fighting counterfeits on their priority list in the fight against organised crime over the next four years and applaud the European Union’s strengthened commitment to investigating counterfeiters and holding them accountable.

National governments now need to translate this commitment locally and support law enforcement authorities so they can catch and prosecute counterfeiters. We look forward to working with national governments and partners across industry to ensure adequate resources are committed and that prosecutions are further prioritised.

We continue to make good progress in protecting our store. We are also increasing the number of criminal referrals and litigation cases that we pursue. Amazon will continue to invest and innovate to protect customers, brands, and our store.

However, it’s clear that stopping these bad actors will require the private and public sector to share parcel data and information on confirmed counterfeiters, and more resources for law enforcement to pursue prosecution. We realise that this will require specific policy and governmental changes and have published more detailed policy recommendations for the European Union.

Consumers deserve to get the authentic products they purchased. The retail industry and government bodies must step up, work together, and stop counterfeiters to protect consumers, rights owners, and store operators from these criminals.

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