Don’t Panic: Dealing With Trademark and Copyright Claims on Amazon
You’ve just received a notice that you’re infringing on a trademark or copyright. Your first instinct is to panic, type out a strongly worded response, and pray that your business doesn’t sink.
We’re here to tell you to stop panicking about trademark claims.
In fact, most great sellers will get hit with some sort of claim or report at one point or another on Amazon. When you’re succeeding, someone else wants to take you down. There are bullies and trolls out there who just want to pull down your business so they can try to be on top.
But there are also some serious claims, too. You might find yourself up against a large corporation or brand owner coming after your brand, products, or business. And these are not to be taken likely.
In this article, we will go through the types of infringement claims, why they happen on Amazon, and how you can approach these claims appropriately.
What is a claim of infringement?
There are three main types of infringements you might come across as an Amazon seller.
- Patent infringement is selling patented inventions without the permission or authority of the patent owner. This can include entire products or patented processes, equipment, or parts of a product.
- Copyright infringement is when you use another’s images or text without their authorization. This can be on your listings, products, packaging, or marketing materials.
- Trademark infringement is when you use symbols or words that are federally registered to a specific product or company.
Infringements tend to happen most often if you resell goods, especially branded units. Claims can also happen if you create and sell your own products that aren’t labeled. Reselling and distribution cause a gray area that can lead to potential infringement claims.
Why do Amazon claims happen?
All businesses—including those on Amazon—must comply with intellectual property (IP) laws. This is especially important to note if you are importing items from overseas countries, where they have different patents and trademark laws. Even if a patent isn’t applicable in the country where you are creating the goods, it is still applicable in the country where you are selling them.
Amazon doesn’t take responsibility for any sort of trademark or copyright claims. They don’t have the manpower, vetting processes, or the liability to get involved. In this way, any seller can make a report on Amazon, and the notice will come through to you almost immediately. Amazon doesn’t want any problems with trademarking or copyrighting on their site, so almost every report with full documentation will be approved as an official claim. Amazon tends to be more aggressive so they won’t have any counterfeit items on their site.
Thus, whether these claims are true or false is basically indistinguishable to Amazon. It’s your job to determine what the claim is about if it’s legitimate, and how it can be resolved.
How do you handle an Amazon claim?
1. Don’t panic.
Relax. Remember- Amazon claims happen more often than there is a legal basis for. Be rational and levelheaded. Don’t respond to a claim in a frenzied state.
2. Determine where the claim comes from.
If the notice of the claim is coming directly from Amazon through your Seller Central, then you should consider it seriously. If it comes from Amazon’s Legal department, your listing (or entire business) could get temporarily or permanently shut down.
These claims often come from another seller or manufacturer/merchant who submitted documentation through Amazon’s reporting system. They likely proved that they are the rights holder in some way, either through paperwork or Amazon’s Brand Registry. Amazon is then supporting the person who made that claim until you prove your “innocence.”
If the claim comes directly from a company or a lawyer, it may not be legitimate. If it is not through Amazon directly, your listing won’t be shut down yet. You can only be removed from Amazon if Amazon contacts you directly.
If you are receiving letters from a private label company or individual, they are trying to “intimidate” you off the site. They likely don’t have a claim or they would go through Amazon. If they are harassing you using Amazon’s platform, you can report them to Amazon.
You may also want to take note of the brand making the claim. Some brands are highly aggressive, like Nike and Apple. If you’re going up against a bigger brand, you likely won’t win the claim unless you provide authorization for distribution.
3. Understand why they submitted the claim.
What does the claim look like? Is it a patent, copyright, or trademark infringement? Is it counterfeit or Rights Owner? Amazon handles these claims differently.
If it’s a Rights Owner infringement, Amazon will remove the listing temporarily until the true Rights Owner proves their ownership. This means that if you own your own label or are an authorized seller for a brand, you will need to prove documentation to Amazon.
If it’s a counterfeit complaint, you will need to provide documentation from the manufacturer or brand. This letter should be directly from your distributor discussing your authorization and sourcing.
You may also have claims of copyrighted text or pictures on your listing. Another common concern is trademarking of a brand name. These complaints are generally held outside of Amazon’s legal department. However, your account could be suspended until they are resolved.
If you’re not sure why the claim was made, contact the complainer. If the claim came through Amazon, the contact information of the complainer will be available in the notice. Reach out with a polite, but vague, inquiry:
“I am writing to inquire about claim XYZ. Can you please share how you believe we have infringed on your trademark/copyright/patent/ownership? It was never our intention, and we are eager to clear this up.”
This can help you determine the specific issue that the complainer has, whether it’s related to your product, brand name, listings, etc. Be sure to be respectful and do not make any sort of claims about whether you did or did not infringe.
4. Figure out your legal standing.
Look at their claim to see who’s “in the right.” It’s possible that you infringed by accident (or on purpose)—and now is the time to notice that before entering into a legal battle.
For example, if you copied descriptions directly from a competitors’ website or took pictures from the manufacturer, you likely did infringe on copyright laws. This sort of matter is easily resolved because you can take down the copyrighted materials and create your own descriptions and images.
Another example would be if you were selling a generic product on a branded listing. The original seller may think they own the rights to that product. However, Amazon allows sellers to “piggyback” on someone’s listing if they are both selling the same generic product. This is not true if the product is branded. Thus, a claim like this may be incorrect, where the seller believes they have the rights to the product listing when they may not.
If you want to find out who the rights owner is, look at the USPTO database for patents. Trademark law can be tricky. It’s a first-come, first-serve world, and trademarks don’t hold if they have been abandoned. Because of the intricacies of trademarking, you may want to consult an attorney.
But what if you know you did nothing wrong? If you know that you have created your own product, brand, pictures, and descriptions, it’s time to fight the claim. Counterfeit claims do pop up; don’t let harassment scare you.
If you have infringed somehow, contact the claimer to discuss how you plan to resolve the solution. Ask if they will then retract the form so your listings will be reinstated. Then, fix the problem as quickly as possible. If you’re in the wrong, resolve it, don’t fight.
6. Submit a counter-claim.
If you have not infringed, you will need to provide Amazon with documentation that you are the rights owner of the product, content, and brand. You will do so by submitting a counter-notice through Amazon and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This will push Amazon to re-list your goods if the claim was false.
7. Get legal support.
It’s not always that easy, though. If the claim is serious, you need to respond appropriately and cautiously. Your business could be at stake. It might be time to get an attorney. A lawyer will draw up an official letter to send to the complainant and Amazon, discussing your legal basis for this action. Responding with a quality lawyer could be the crucial step to protecting your business.
8. Protect yourself.
Moving forward, it’s important you take the necessary steps to ensure this won’t happen again. You should federally register a trademark for your logo and brand; put copyrights on your descriptions and images; have available all distributor authorization documents; keep your Amazon account secure, and have an attorney on standby.
The Bottom Line
Even though there are a lot of counterfeit claims out there, having a claim against you can be serious and damaging. An Amazon infringement claim could have a single product unlisted—leaving you with overstocked inventory and lost sales—or your entire Marketplace removed indefinitely.
It’s crucial that you respond appropriately and thoroughly based on the claim, the origin of the claim, and the type of infringement.
But most importantly: keep a level head. Don’t panic or freak out. Claims can often be resolved without going to court or ruining your business.