WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said it plans to crack down more aggressively on counterfeit imports, targeting merchants, as well as warehouses and third-party websites like Amazon, that officials allege are responsible for fake goods sold online.
The measures, laid out Friday by the Department of Homeland Security, seek to take “immediate action” against counterfeit goods by imposing fines and other penalties on marketplaces such as eBay, Alibaba and Amazon, where the majority of products are sold by third-party merchants.
The DHS’ 54-page report urged government officials to take specific steps to implement tough restrictions, such as suspending repeat offenders and pursuing civil fines, but it offered few details on when or how that would happen. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the report said, would work with the Justice Department “to investigate and prosecute intellectual property violations at all levels of the supply chain.”
Trump last year called on DHS and other agencies to look into the trafficking and sale of counterfeit goods on third-party websites. He said in a memo in April that pirated goods account for roughly $500 billion in global trade every year, with about 20 percent of that undermining U.S. intellectual property.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company has invested more than $400 million to protect against fraud and noted that the company will begin reporting all confirmed counterfeiters to law enforcement agencies.
“Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting efforts are best in class but we recognize they are not perfect and will continue to innovate and work with policymakers and law enforcement to protect brands and customers,” the company said in a statement.
EBay and Alibaba did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said the agency had seized an estimated $1.5 billion worth of counterfeit goods, including air bags, pharmaceuticals and electronics, in the past year. About 90 percent of those shipments came from overseas, he said.
In all, federal agencies intercepted nearly 28,000 shipments containing counterfeit goods in 2019.
“For all practical purposes, these e-commerce hubs are basically laundries for counterfeits,” Peter Navarro, a top trade adviser to the White House, said in a Friday afternoon news conference. “The thrust of the recommendation is to get e-commerce hubs to accept their fair share of the responsibility.”
Intellectual property experts say the proliferation of online platforms has made it quick and easy for third-party merchants to advertise and sell counterfeit goods to consumers around the world. Reining in a problem of this magnitude, they said, will take sweeping efforts by federal agencies, law enforcement and other entities.
“This is an ever-evolving problem that requires real action,” said Dyan Finguerra-DuCharme, an attorney for Pryor Cashman who focuses on intellectual property and trademark litigation. “It’s not just the guy selling fake Louis Vuitton bags on the street corner anymore.”
The Washington Post recently found a number of knockoffs being sold on Amazon, including imitations of Hermès bracelets, Louis Vuitton handbags and Gucci belts. The company says it uses “sophisticated tools to combat bad actors” and has more than 5,000 employees devoted to protecting vendors and consumers from fraud and abuse; it is also increasingly asking brands to help it identify and remove listings promoting counterfeit products.