Lessons from the unprecedented Amazon/Cartier alliance

Or why targeted search across social media and e-commerce platforms is essential against infringements.

In an official announcement (https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220615005687/en/) Amazon and Cartier announced on June 15th that they were jointly filing two lawsuits against bad actors having sold counterfeit Cartier goods on the Amazon platform. While both companies have had to take action to protect their brands in the past, such a concerted move is unprecedented. It underscores the need to adapt to even bolder attacks from bad actors. By commenting publicly about it, both Amazon and Cartier could set an example for other brand owners. By exposing the bad actors’ gameplan, they also show how holistic solutions – such as IP Metro’s Magnify+ – can make a difference. 

A tale of two platforms 

At a basic level, the dynamics of selling counterfeit goods are often similar: (i) the goods need to be displayed in an environment where they can attract buyers, (ii) the transaction to buy and ship the goods must be easy and secure. 

In the Cartier case, the first step took the form of an Instagram account, promoted by a social media influencer. Instagram’s terms of use (https://help.instagram.com/581066165581870) clearly specify that an account holder cannot “do anything that violates someone else's rights, including intellectual property rights (e.g., copyright infringement, trademark infringement, counterfeit, or pirated goods)” and that the company can “remove any content or information you share on the Service if we believe that it violates these Terms of Use”. Yet, for these terms to be enforced, the Brand needs to be aware that counterfeit items are displayed on a specific account and must send a takedown notice to Instagram/Meta. While we do not doubt that Cartier is diligent and adequately monitors social media feeds to identify potential infringements, such process can be tedious and time consuming, and the sheer number of potential accounts means that, without a tailored monitoring solution, some items are likely to fall through the cracks. 

In recent cases, payment processors and shipping companies have become increasingly vigilant to avoid facilitating the purchase and shipment of counterfeiting goods: the seller of counterfeit goods is unlikely to be able to accept credit card payments directly, nor could it ship them through reputable couriers. It was comparatively much more effective for the bad actors to leverage Amazon’s SME offering to benefit from these services by creating what the Amazon Press Release tells us were “product detail pages for generic products with no indication of infringement”. The bad actors attempted to fool both Amazon’s anti-counterfeit department and casual users who could not identify the items as counterfeits. Because IP Metro’s Magnifying+ tool can be trained to recognize shapes and pictures, it is probable that our Amazon specific “channel” (https://www.magnify.plus/#solutions) would have flagged these goods when monitoring (as an example) the Cartier brand. 

Working together

The bad actors’ choice of using two separate platforms has proven scaringly efficient: while displaying pictures of Cartier goods constitutes an infringement in itself, the threat level is not the same as selling the actual counterfeit goods. Similarly, offering generic products on an Amazon page may not be immediately perceived as selling counterfeits without the context provided by the Instagram page. Only by combining the two separate elements can we assess the extent of the fraud. 

Amazon and Cartier should be commended, not only for their combined work, but for sharing it with the public at large for education purposes. The multiplication of e-commerce platforms and of social media services means that bad actors could conceivably use a similar method by simply substituting TikTok and Alibaba, Pinterest and Etsy,… or any combination of a communication channel and a selling apparatus.

As interesting as this case is, it is also a validation of Magnify+’s holistic approach: by putting the brand front and center and continuously monitoring it over a growing list of platforms, we facilitate the tracking of similar attacks. By tracking the brand at every step, we also make it much easier to convince the commerce platform to take down listings that may appear harmless without the proper context. Perhaps more importantly, we have designed these tools to be customizable and accessible. They give smaller brands than Cartier an opportunity to fight back, and the means to do so for attorneys, even those without the size and might of Amazon’s own legal department. Get in touch to see how your clients could benefit from Magnify+’s holistic approach! 

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Designed by lawyers for lawyers Magnify.plus is an AI-driven monitoring platform used by hundreds of brands to detect and counter infringement.

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