On June 11, 2024, Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) of the US House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet reintroduced the Stopping Harmful Offers on Platforms by Screening Against Fakes in E-Commerce (SHOP SAFE) Act of 2024. The proposed legislation seeks to protect US consumers from unknowingly purchasing counterfeit goods by incentivizing e-commerce platforms to implement certain guidelines. If platforms fail to comply with the act, they could be subject to liability for the actions of third-party sellers.

The SHOP SAFE Act purports to address the growing threat of the online counterfeit marketplace. Consumers are increasingly shopping online, with estimated sales of more than $280 billion in US retail e-commerce for the first quarter of 2024. Counterfeiters have continued to target online consumers, yet under the current trademark regime, third-party counterfeit sellers are seldom held accountable for their role in the online marketplace. The legislation seeks to deter that threat by encouraging e-commerce practices that aim to better inform consumers and screen third-party sellers.

Under the SHOP SAFE Act as proposed, an e-commerce platform may be subject to a lawsuit when a third-party seller uses a counterfeit mark in commerce during a sale, offer, advertisement or distribution of a good that implicates health and safety on the platform. To reduce counterfeit offerings, the legislation purports to enlist platforms to actively monitor for trademark infringement.

The SHOP SAFE Act also would provide e-commerce platforms with a mechanism to protect themselves from contributory liability stemming from counterfeit offerings: a safe harbor if the e-commerce platform takes reasonable prophylactic measures to prevent infringing use of trademarks by a third-party seller. Best practices include imposing certain contractual limitations on third-party sellers, such as those related to:

  • Posting requirements and service of process in the United States.
  • Setting up proactive screening measures and processes to report and quickly disable and remove offerings of counterfeit goods.
  • Implementing written policies to terminate third-party accounts that repeatedly use counterfeit marks and to block those who attempt to rejoin.

Whether enactment of the SHOP SAFE Act would benefit the e-commence ecosystem is a matter of debate. Some contend that the measures are necessary to deputize platforms to better police the goods sold through their websites. Others claim that the legislation might be used to shut down, under the auspices of trademark enforcement, small businesses offering legitimate goods, especially because these businesses likely have fewer resources to challenge the platform’s determinations. As the SHOP SAFE Act has been previously introduced without movement, and given that this year is not primed for bipartisan action, it remains to be seen whether the act – which has companion US Senate legislation – moves forward toward passage.

Lauren Hong, a summer associate in the San Francisco office, also contributed to this article.

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