Monthly Archives: November 2016

DMCA Safe Harbor Registration Deadline Is Fast Approaching

picture of letters DMCA on deck to accompany post about DMCA digital safe harbor registration
57854715 – the acronym “dmca” is lined with gold letters on wooden planks. 3d illustration image

Do you want to be held responsible for other people’s intellectual property missteps? No? Then register for the DMCA Safe Harbor program at dmca.copyright.gov by December 31, 2016. People who previously registered by mail must re-register using the online system. Need help? Contact Kelly / Warner.

Mandatory Online Registration For DMCA Safe Harbor Program

The U.S. Copyright Office changed the DMCA agent registration process. Previously, online service providers could mail in their registration requirements. Not anymore.

By December 31, 2016, all parties wishing to maintain their safe harbor status must register using the online system at dmca.copyright.gov (link doesn’t go live until Dec. 1, 2016).

The DMCA Safe Harbor Provision

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) governs online intellectual property in the United States. Section 512(c), commonly known as the “Safe Harbor” program, outlines how ISPs can protect themselves from third-party intellectual property liability.

To put it another way, the DMCA Safe Harbor program is why authorities don’t punish Google when *John Doe* posts a pirated film on YouTube.

DMCA Designated Agents

The DMCA Safe Harbor program isn’t an automatic protection bestowed on all websites. To qualify, every three years, ISPs must formally designate and register an agent — typically an attorney — who acts as the receiver for all site-specific intellectual property notifications and takedown requests.

What happens if you don’t register a DMCA agent? Authorities could hold you responsible for users’ intellectual property foibles. So, if you’re an OSP, and you don’t want to pay the price for users’ actions, register for the DMCA Safe Harbor program.

Social Media Marketing Maven: Chrissy Teigen

picture of social media icons on phone to accompany post about Chrissy Teigen's social media marketing prowessWhen she’s not lip sync battling, Chrissy Teigen apparently ponders social media marketing mysteries! Recently, the brand influencer Twitter-shared some musings about FTC advertising compliance.

We learned:

  • Chrissy Teigen is serious about her online marketing work and keeps up-to-date with FTC regulations. We say, “Good on her!” Every influencer should familiarize themselves with Federal Trade Commission compliance standards.
  • Chrissy collaborates with brands to draft promotional tweets.
  • Teigen, (like many marketers), doesn’t quite understand why some tea and smoothie social media influencers seem allergic to #ad or #spon promotional hashtags, which are, technically, required.

The FTC’s social media marketing rules

  • Promotional Hashtags: Influencers, marketers, and brands are expected to use #ad, #spon, #sponsor, or #paid in promotional tweets, ‘grams, and other social media posts.
  • Disclose Material Relationships: Read the Dot Com Disclosures to determine the necessary promotional declarations for your product. Don’t want to wade through an FTC regulatory document? Click here for the most important points.
  • Be Mindful of Promotional Language: Don’t lie about product benefits; don’t fib about ingredients; don’t rely on questionable scientific studies to support claims. The FTC has — and will continue to — sue over these types of infractions.

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram promotions are ubiquitous, but online marketing regulations are still nascent. Please don’t misunderstand the assertion. Regulations DO exist; brands risk sizable fines for shirking guidelines. And even though the FTC has earned a reputation for, shall we say, mutable justice… consistency has, over the past year, quietly snuck its way into the investigation equation.

Want to evade the FTC’s prying eyes?  Clean up your marketing compliance house.

Click here to read about other digital promotional legalities. Head this way to speak with someone who can help solve your social media marketing challenges.

Online Trade Libel Attorney Gets Facebook Defamation Ruling Reversed

Picture of blackboard featuring the word Trust to accompany blog post about online trade libel caseTo his client’s relief, online trade libel attorney Dan Warner convinced an Arizona appeals court to vacate a trial court’s ruling in a Facebook defamation case. By successfully arguing that the presiding judge failed to properly apply the appropriate legal tests established in Mobilisa, Inc. v. Doe, Warner was able to slip his client from the defamation liability noose.

About the Case: Business Criticism On Facebook Leads To Online Trade Libel Lawsuit

An online trade libel lawsuit, the Plaintiff (whom we’ll call “Acme”) sued an anonymous user (“John Doe”) for allegedly posting false and defamatory statements about Acme’s product on Facebook.

Since the user posted under an alias, Acme filed a John Doe claim to uncover the real name of the anonymous defendant. After initiating the lawsuit, Acme sent subpoenas to Facebook and Domains by Proxy, in search of information (like an IP address) that would help reveal the identity of the product-critiquing user.

Upon receiving the subpoena, Facebook notified John Doe; Doe then retained online trade libel attorney Dan Warner who filed a motion to quash the subpoenas.

Online Trade Libel Catch-22: Preserving Privacy v. Accountability

Online service providers avoid passing out user data like Gremlins avoid bright lights. Why? Because online privacy is a legal quagmire, and if they’re not careful, ISPs can unwittingly find themselves dragged into users’ legal battles. Thus, to avoid unnecessary, resource draining, litigation entanglements, most websites adopt a hands-off approach when faced with civil information requests.

In some cases, however, ISPs are legally compelled to release user data, by force of a court order.  However, in Arizona, to secure a subpoena that forces websites to hand over identifying information on anonymous Internet speakers, plaintiffs must show that:

  • The speaker has been given adequate and a reasonable opportunity to respond to the discovery request;
  • The plaintiff’s action could survive a summary judgment on elements, irrespective of the speaker’s identity; and
  • The balance of the parties competing interests favors disclosure.

Unfortunately, in Acme’s case, the trial court judge denied the motion without making any findings of fact — or conclusions of law — regarding the required three-part Mobilisa test.

Warner’s appeal included several points on which the appellate court could have hung a reversal, but it chose to focus on the trial judge’s failure to adequately apply the “balancing” test, as outlined in Mobilisa.

The appeals court, in Warner’s client’s case, expressly held:

Because of the conclusory nature of the order below, we are unable to tell if the trial court correctly used the 3-part test outlined in Mobilisa v.  Doe, 217 Ariz.  103, 170  P.3d  712 (App.  2007) (using  a  summary  judgment  standard)  or  the  lower  prima facie standard urged by Dream Steam below with their citation to Best W. Int’l Inc., v. Doe, WL 2091695 (D. Ariz. July 2007). See Chaparral DIVISION ONE FILED:  RUTH A. WILLINGHAM, CLERKBY: 6/27/2016 RB Dev. v. RMED Int’l, Inc., 170  Ariz.  309, 311, n.3,  823  P.2d  1317, 1319  (App.  1991) (citation  omitted)  (conclusory  rulings  impair effective  appellate  review).    We  are  likewise  unable  to  discern whether  the  trial  court  engaged  in Mobilisa’s third-prong  balancing test when considering whether the disclosure of Doe’s name outweighed the community’s protected interest in supporting anonymous speech on the internet.

In other words, the court of appeals ruled that it was unclear if the trial court judge considered whether the plaintiff’s business interests outweighed the defendant’s right to anonymously express opinions on the Internet.

Consult With An Experienced Online Trade Libel Lawyer

In today’s digital, viral marketplace, a pristine reputation is crucial to maintaining a competitive edge; protecting your business’ good name is arguably as important as securing seed money.

If you’re fighting a product or business disparagement headache, get in touch with our team of online defamation fixers. We can help.

To learn more about online trade libel lawyer Dan Warner, head here.

Will Trump’s Presidency Crush The Ecommerce Market?

picture of word TAX on computer to accompany a blog post about possible ecommerce tariff from TrumpA 45% tariff on all Chinese imports; that’s what Donald Trump promised supporters. Subsequently, U.S. ecommerce entrepreneurs who use Chinese manufacturers may be wondering: Are we about to be thumped by Trump?

What’s the answer? Will the ecommerce sector suffer under Trump’s administration?

(Can we be blunt? Good. Thanks.) Look, if you voted for the Republican candidate, you’re probably thinking, “Everything will be great, including ecommerce markets! Sellers have nothing to worry about!” If you didn’t cast your ballot for the real estate scion, your thoughts probably veer somewhere near, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, especially for ecommerce entrepreneurs!”

The truth, history consistently proves, likely rests between the two extremes. So, in that spirit, let’s chuck partisan rhetoric into the recycling bin and take a few minutes to dispassionately assess whether or not a Trump presidency will have a destabilizing effect on ecommerce businesses.

First things First: What’s A Tariff?

Are tariffs the same as taxes? Technically, a tariff is a type of tax; specifically, a tax on imported goods and services (in rare instances). According to Investopedia:

“Tariffs are used to restrict trade, as they increase the price of imported goods and services, making them more expensive to consumers. They are one of several tools available to shape trade policy.”

Tariffs are typically a per unit charge, remitted during international custom inspections, and have three primary purposes:

  • Increase the cost of imports, to stimulate domestic demand for the same product;
  • Shift currency appreciation values; and
  • Create government revenue.

Tariffs are not one-size-fits-all measures and have far-reaching financial effects.

(Housekeeping Note: Since we’re talking about the possible effects of Trump’s presidency on ecommerce businesses, the discussion will focus on issues related to imported goods.)

Second things Second: The Current State of the Ecommerce Scene

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, for the sixth year in a row, the ecommerce sector is skyrocketing. 2015 figures show that online product sales accounted for a third of the country’s retail growth — and that number jumps significantly if fuel and automobile acquisitions (which aren’t readily available to buy online) are struck from the calculation.

Last year, online sales totaled $341.7 billion, a 14.6% increase from the previous year.

In 2015, alone, Fulfillment by Amazon sellers shipped over a billion items to more than 185 countries. As such, traditional big-box retailers, like Wal-Mart, are beefing up their ecommerce offerings to compete with established third-party retail platforms like Amazon and Jet.

Ecommerce Exploding

Why is the online retail sector growing like bamboo? In a word: globalization. Anybody who is willing to roll up their sleeves, do the research, pick the right product, and exert some elbow grease can build an online retail operation.

Some people may ask, “But how? Doesn’t it cost a fortune to get products manufactured? Isn’t significant startup capital required?”

Not anymore, thanks to websites like Alibaba.com.

Alibaba.com: The Chinese Ecommerce Site Loved By U.S. Sellers

What’s Alibaba.com?

An online marketplace of out China, Alibaba is a popular supply chain stop used by throngs of U.S. ecommerce businesses. Think of Alibaba as an online Costco; users can purchase products, in bulk, for less.

Even more enticing? People with product invention ideas can shop for Chinese manufacturing services on Alibaba. Why use overseas fabricators? Cost. Items commissioned from Asian manufacturers are significantly less expensive than stateside alternatives.

The Catch-22 of Today’s Ecommerce Environment

So, as you’ve probably already surmised, the current ecommerce setup is a classic catch-22.

Globalization, technology, and the implementation of free trade principals have fueled entrepreneurism by lowering startup costs — which, in turn, has bolstered the economy.

But then there’s the flip side.

All those manufacturing jobs, which were once manna for a stable middle class, sailed overseas, leaving economically devastated regions in their wake.

So now, as a nation, we find ourselves saddled with a Sophie’s choice: Do we hamstring the aborning ecommerce market — and subsequently small business growth — by keeping import fees to an absolute minimum? Or do we hike tariff prices in an attempt to save traditional manufacturing jobs, in an increasingly competitive global market?

The President’s Tariff Power

What’s the next piece of this puzzle? Presidential privilege. Does the U.S. President have the power to impose tariffs without legislative oversight or approval?

If this were a shock jock podcast, we’d ominously answer, “Yes.” Because technically, yes, both the 1965 Trade Expansion Act and the 1974 Trade Act give POTUS significant leeway to negotiate import-export agreements, including tariff rate hikes.

But what, exactly, constitutes “significant leeway?”

How The Trans-Pacific Partnership Plays A Role

Enter the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership. During the campaign we heard it mentioned — a lot — though typically in passing.

And it’s no wonder that the candidates didn’t dig deep into TPP on the trail.

An excruciatingly complex treaty, the agreement particulars don’t lend themselves well to stump speeches. But for this discussion, let’s turn our attention to the Trade Preferences Extension Act — a provision tucked away in the TPP. Passed in 2015, the statute allows sitting Presidents to draft and present trade bills to Congress. According to the edict, Congress can then either approve or disapprove the President’s measure, but not amend or filibuster it.

Which Way Will Representatives Role?

With a majority Republican Congress, the likelihood of legislators waving through a tariff increase, in the name of job stimulation, is high.

HOWEVER — and it’s a big however — representatives of both the Republican and Democratic persuasions are beholden to donors — donors with serious commerce interests. And a sizable portion of corporate America is more concerned about keeping free trade avenues open than bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.

But at this point, all we can do is speculate. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the Congressional vote breaks if the new administration does present a trade agreement early on.

War, Emergencies, and National Security Issues Give POTUS More Tariff Negotiating Powers

Section 122 of the 1974 Trade Act also allows for a 150-day (5 month) window wherein the sitting President can enact an “across-the-board” tariff, on all imported goods, for national security purposes. After the 150 days, however, Congress must approve the measure or it becomes unenforceable.

The ’64 trade act is also teeming with executive trade privilege. Under the statute, presidents can:

  • Unilaterally impose any tariffs “during time of war.” And no, “war,” in this context, doesn’t mean a widely recognized world war. In fact, in 1971, nearly 20 years after the Korean conflict had ended, Richard Nixon evoked the privilege, on a flimsy administrative thread, to enact a blanket 10% tariff hike. Pundits seem confident that Trump could cite U.S. Special Forces in Lybia and Syria to warrant the “war tariff.”

 

  • Levy tariffs, on specific goods, during a “national emergency.” And again, in this context, an issue of national security could be something as simple as “we’re losing jobs.” These types of tariffs usually target specific goods. For example, President Obama enacted a 35% tariff on Chinese tire imports after taking office, and China countered with its own tariffs.

So while Trump’s ability to impose economic measures, unilaterally, may be limited, circumstances allowing, he could impose tariffs (as high as 45%) by arguing that China’s actions were causing economic harm in the U.S.

But if Trump did do that, would the impact be disastrous?

Trump’s Potential Tariffs: Possible Impact

So now that we know what can and can’t happen, let’s look at the potential impact.

If Trump imposed a 45% tariff on certain goods, like electronics or steel, then the price of imported electronics or steel from China would likely rise.  Importers would then be faced with a choice: produce the goods domestically or look elsewhere. And depending on the product’s makeup, reproducing it domestically may not be possible.

Regardless, if the cost of any given product rises, consumers will be forced to choose between a) spending more on the product and less on other things, b) not buying the product at all, or c) finding an alternative.

But remember, it works both ways; if the U.S. imposes levies on a product from a specific country, and said country responds with their own tariffs, their citizens will also be faced with the same dilemma as stateside consumers. It’s the ultimate game of chicken.

It All Depends On Your Product

Bottom line: for ecommerce sellers, the potential impact of a Trump tariff really depends on the product and where its manufactured.  Targeted goods could see a hike in customs fees, which would likely be passed on to customers in the form of a price increase, and depending on the good, could lead to a drop in demand.  The scenario may be a bit nerve wracking for Amazon sellers that have private label products produced overseas and imported from China.

Diversify To Survive

In the event of a tariff hike on goods imported from China, Sellers in countries not saddled with the tariff (for arguments sake, let’s choose Malaysia) could — and would — swoop in and undercut American sellers.  Because of this, we always recommend having back up manufacturing plans in other countries (or at least get the balls rolling).

To further gird against potential fee hikes, ecommerce sellers should consider stocking up on products before the tariff lands or finding a tariff-free substitute.  Unfortunately, predicting replacement goods may require swami-like skills.

Lastly, look to expand sales in other countries.  If Brits and Canadians aren’t burdened with tariff cost concerns, they may just prove to be the perfect new sales stream.

Tying It All Together

Let’s recap.

  • Trump vowed to slap a 45% tariff on all Chinese imports as part of an economic stimulus plan.
  • Many U.S.-based ecommerce businesses use Chinese suppliers for cost-saving reasons.
  • The Executive Branch does enjoy significant trade privileges, which Trump could, conceivably, use to make good on campaign promises.
  • The only obstacle to a White House imposed tariff hike is Congress. And at this point, it’s anybody’s guess as to which way it will swing. Lest we not forget, Trump’s road to the Oval Office involved a lot of anti-establishment threats; rank and file representatives could prove to be less than enthusiastic about flying the Executive Branch’s banner.
  • Politicians must also answer to donors. And in many cases, those donors have a vested interest in keeping Sino-American trade avenues wide open.

Will Trump’s administration likely brandish its trade privileges during negotiations? Sure. They’re bargaining chips. In a way, he’d be a fool not to. But at some point, restraint will probably prevail, because neither the Executive or Legislative bodies want to be responsible for hurling the country into a Great Recession on account of an ill-considered, quickly implemented tariff hike.

Final Thoughts: Best Tactics

So, what’s the best tact for ecommerce entrepreneurs at this juncture? If you want to play it safe, consider moving monies to your shipping / import budget, regionally diversify your production, and start targeting buyers in other countries.

In the short term, the worst case scenario is a 45% tariff on specific goods from specific countries. In the coming months, as Trump continues to build his transition team and Cabinet, we’ll all have a clearer picture of the administration’s ethos and its likely impact on the ecommerce industry.

Ebook Business Update: Discount-For-Review Exemptions and Pricing Wars

Graphics of books on a laptop screen to accompany a blog post about the ebook business

Ebook Business Legal News: Authors Can Still Give Out Free Advanced Copies Of Books, In Exchange For Honest Reviews

Did you hear about the changes in Amazon’s online review policy? Basically, sellers can no longer offer free or discounted products in exchange for fair and honest reviews.

Alas, dear writers, there is an exception: ebooks!

Since Gutenberg first pimped his press to the public, authors have given out free advanced copies in exchange for reviews; the practice is the publishing industry’s primary marketing artery. (Think about it: Who would’ve plunked down dimes for the then unknown Thoreau’s Walden, if it didn’t include a forward by his bud, the popular Ralph Emerson?)

How can sellers leverage the ebook exemption in Amazon’s discount-for-review policy? It depends on the product. For example, service providers reliably attract new clients by developing niche ebooks. Ask yourself: Can you do the same for your product?

Ebook Business Performance News: Digital v. Paper Pricing Wars Lumber On

For years, paper publishers and Amazon have unwittingly found themselves in a polygamous marriage. Sure, certain benefits keep them happily bound (Amazon is the country’s largest book distributor), but the relationship is also plagued with heaps of jealousy, resentment, suspicion, and, of course, power struggling.

The Brinkmanship Of Book Pricing

It all started when Amazon successfully hooked readers on ebooks, and the paper-book market took the bullet; bookstores were lined up in front of a firing squad.

But traditionalists fought back. In an arguably injudicious move — which perhaps revealed the old-industry-guard’s detrimental and intractable shortsightedness — the paper publishers sued for the right to set ebook pricing…and won.

But it was a Pyrrhic Victory, of sorts.

Why?

Because Amazon buys books at wholesale and still controls paperback / hardback pricing on the site. So, when the publishers hiked ebook costs, Amazon started pushing paper books at a lower-than-retail cost. And now, according to a recent article in Tech Crunch, ebook sales are down 22.7% compared to 2015. (Ay, Dios libro! Can’t the publishers all just get along!?)

Nice To Meet You

Self-published authors regularly become entangled in intellectual property confrontations; plagiarism is also a big problem — as are writers who deploy phony defamatory reviews to disparage competitors.

We help authors overcome these obstacles. If you’re grappling with an online publishing business or legal problem, we’re here to help. Get in touch; we’ll chat and come up with solutions to your ebook business challenges.

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Holiday FBA Legal News: Projections, Prime, and Pirates

computer festooned in garland to accompany blog post about holiday FBA sellers newsHoliday shopping season is upon us. So, let’s take a minute to dissect a bit of ecommerce industry news…using a lawyer’s scalpel.

Holiday Prognosis For FBA Sellers = Less Than Ideal

Unfortunately, this holiday season may be a rocky one for some FBA sellers — especially neophytes.

Why?

Amazon is restricting warehouse services until December 19th. In past years, the online retailer implemented a handful of category-specific cutoffs to ensure sufficient processing time for the holidays, but this year’s blanket mandate is a first.

Why is Amazon doing it? The online retailer explained:

We are restricting shipments from new-to-FBA sellers to ensure we have the capacity necessary to quickly receive and store inventory and ship products to customers. If new FBA sellers have not completed their first shipment to Amazon before October 10, 2016, we encourage them to start shipping to Amazon after December 19, 2016. If the situation changes before December 19, we will notify them by email. We encourage sellers to continue selling on Amazon and fulfilling orders directly to customers.

In short, it’s all about warehouse capacity; unpopular products clog floors and hamstring the distribution process, which has the potential to create a perfect customer service storm, and ultimately cause a complaint tsunami to crash down on Amazon.

The announcement shocked some folks. But should it have? Perhaps not. Earlier in the year, Amazon began forcing certain sellers to reclaim unsold inventory. Hindsight being 20/20, pundits are now wondering: Did we all ignore an important bellwether?

A market analyst further explained:

Looking at the last couple holiday seasons, Amazon realized one thing that can help is better management or optimization of inventory on hand for holiday purchases. They’re looking at available capacity in terms of both third-party and first-party inventory, and clearly being more aggressive in managing what additional products are going to be sent to those DCs before the end of the year.

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Amazon Prime In China

Prime finally arrived in a giant country obsessed with overseas products — China. The expansion could be an opportunity boon for savvy U.S. sellers.

Cheaper than its stateside counterpart, China’s Prime costs $57. Amazon cut the price to lure users in an already saturated market. But some pundits are skeptical because regional e-commerce competitors already offer free shipping packages, for less.

So, why push Prime onto an already crowded pitch? Ben Cavender, a senior analyst at China Market Research Group in Shanghai, explained:

If they can offer products and brands the other guys aren’t, this could really work for them. They have so much data about what goods are popular overseas, they may be able to anticipate what products will be popular … in China.

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Alibaba Is Still Fighting To Avoid The Infamous Pirates List

Dubbed “the bad boys of retail” by a U.S. executive, trade groups, like the AAFA, are practically begging officials to slap Alibaba back on the “notorious markets list” — an index of online and offline piracy souks. The threat has been lingering for several months, and Alibaba made the latest move by sending a statement to the U.S. Trade Representative, which, in part, read:

We routinely collaborate with brands, associations, and regulators to maintain the integrity of our marketplaces. Our recent USTR [United States Trade Representative] submissions describe our steadfast efforts to fight counterfeiters online and the sources of such production offline. It also reflects our very strong commitment towards intellectual property rights protection.

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Need Help With An E-commerce Business Issue?

Our firm, Kelly / Warner, regularly assists ecommerce entrepreneurs with routine business issues and aberrant legal matters. What do we do? Things like (but not limited to):

  1. Help people form asset-protecting businesses to avoid personal liability.
  2. Negotiate with websites, like Amazon, on account reinstatement issues.
  3. Act as counsel for enterprises involved in overseas shipping and marketing.
  4. Perform advertising and marketing compliance reviews.
  5. Handle payment processing setbacks and setups.

To learn more about us, click here. If you’re ready to talk, schedule a conversation.

Cyberbullying Case: Fatal Harassment Bully Gets 30-Day Jail Sentence

cyberbullying case law jail

Cyberbullying Case Summary: Fatal NJ University Incident

In 2010, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi tragically jumped to his death after learning his roommate, Dharun Ravi, secretly recorded footage of him kissing another man, and then posted it online.

The State of New Jersey used bias intimidation laws to prosecute Ravi (State of New Jersey vs. Dharun Ravi) in the seminal cyberbullying case. In 2012, a court convicted him on 15 counts. Ravi “was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 3 years probation, 300 hours of community service, a $10,000 fine, and counseling on cyberbullying and alternate lifestyles.”

Judge Ordered Retrial

In 2015, however, New Jersey’s Supreme Court put an end to the state’s bias intimidation law, declaring it unconstitutional. The legal dominoes fell, and in 2016, an appeals court ordered a new trial, since four of Ravi’s counts stemmed from an unconstitutional edict.

Despite the decision, judges in the cyberbullying case emphatically condemned Ravi’s actions and presented an emotional opprobrium:

“The social environment that transformed a private act of sexual intimacy into a grotesque voyeuristic spectacle must be unequivocally condemned in the strongest possible way. The fact that this occurred in a university dormitory, housing first-year college students, only exacerbates our collective sense of disbelief and disorientation.”

Interested in reading more cyberbullying case studies? Click here.

Amazon Sues Over Fake Reviews: FBA News

Picture of fake dollar bill to accompany a blog post about Amazon sues over fake reviews

Amazon Does Not Suffer Fools Fake Reviews

Amazon sues over fake reviews, and actively engages courts to enforce its “zero tolerance” stance. Recently, the company filed yet another lawsuit against several phony feedback facilitators.

Amazon Sues Over Fake Reviews

In the past year alone, the online retailer has already sued hundreds of businesses and individuals who create and deploy fake reviews. (You can read about other instances here, here, and here.)

Why Does Amazon Hate Fake Reviews?

Amazon — (and the Federal Trade Commission, for that matter) — views fake reviews as an act of unfair competition. Or, in legalese, buying fake reviews violates Section 5 of the FTC Act because the practice qualifies as an intentional attempt to mislead consumers.

Amazon explained its position to TechCrunch

“Our goal is to eliminate the incentives for sellers to engage in review abuse and shut down this ecosystem around fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation. As long as this type of abuse exists, we will continue to take enforcement and legal action against sellers participating in fraudulent reviews.”

Discount-For-Review Programs Are Also Against Amazon Policy

The news comes in the wake of Amazon’s announcement to purge the site of incentivized reviews (exception: books).

What does this mean for e-commerce entrepreneurs? In all probability, traditional advertising will make a triumphant comeback.

Is Amazon Hamstringing Startups?

In addition to investor cynicism, Amazon’s recent crackdowns have sparked a concern flame in the e-commerce industry. Is Amazon, in a way, raising the barrier of entry way too high, by ultimately forcing startups to outlay a larger initial marketing spend?

Fake Reviews v. Discount-For-Reviews: Both Are Now No-Nos on Amazon

What is the difference between fake reviews and discount-for-review programs? The former conspicuously violates Federal marketing regulations; the latter is (perhaps, it’s now more accurate to say, “was”) an enormously helpful startup marketing tool — which also spawned an entire promotional services niche, feedback facilitation.

Or, to put it simply: discount-for-review programs helped grow the online business economy.

Difficult But Necessary?

On account of Amazon’s no-holds-barred approach to exterminating solicited reviews, a big e-commerce question now looms: Do Amazon’s actions fall into the “difficult-but-necessary” category? Did company quants crunch numbers and discover that its third-party selling programs were ballooning at a breakneck — and unsustainable — speed, flooding the platform with potentially problematic digital detritus?

Because here’s the thing: Amazon is currently the top-dog, and as such, greatly exposed. It must be careful. Other online retailers are patiently crouching in the tall weeds, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce — and that opportunity could be Amazon’s deteriorating respectability. After all, if the platform becomes synonymous with counterfeit goods and phony reviews, the public will start to look elsewhere.

Adjust To Survive

Now, does all this news spell doom and gloom for FBA sellers? No. Surviving amounts to adjusting. Brands and marketers should consider:

  • Launching products at a low price, along with a well-executed customer satisfaction email campaign, which encourages consumers to leave reviews.
  • Readjusting budgets to include other types of “Off Amazon” marketing efforts.
  • Adding an unexpected packaging surprise. Why? Because people are more likely to leave a review if they’re delighted by an unanticipated treat. This tactic also has the added advantage of acting as a counterfeit deterrent.

Need Advice From An Amazon E-Commerce Attorney?

Our firm helps business owners overcome online review challenges, in addition to other Internet business issues, like account suspensions, counterfeiting, and intellectual property troubles.

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