Hey guys! Over the past 24 hours I was part of an “AFTA Internet Sellers” delegation in Washington DC that went all over Capitol Hill advocating for Amazon sellers. I wanted to write a quick post to share how the trip went with all of you.
First, a little background. A few days before our trip AFTA provided us with “leave behind” materials describing AFTA Internet Sellers as primarily small businesses committed to stopping the distribution of counterfeit goods and to a competitive marketplace benefiting all American consumers. These materials laid out AFTA’s relatively new focus on e-commerce and touched on how they mirrored the same or similar issues which AFTA has been working on for decades in the world of global trade and commerce.
The Delegation was comprised of up of two members of AFTA’s board and two Amazon Sellers.
AFTA Board Members
Lauren Perez – Government Affairs Advisor
Gilbert Lee Sandler – Counsel
The night before our meetings we met in DC for what would became a 3+ hour dinner meeting talking about all things related to e-commerce, IPR (Intellectual Property Rights), the American Free Trade Association and how to approach the meetings that would begin early the following day. We left the dinner prepared, excited and certain that we would not leave DC without making sure our message was heard.
We started the next day off by going to a “Meet and greet” event held by my TN Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. While the particular staffer we had hoped to meet there was not in attendance, another staffer from the Senators’ office promised to try to get us an appropriate meeting setup later in the day. She kept her word and later that afternoon we received confirmation that, despite a very busy schedule and having only about 15 minutes free, the staff would very much like to meet and talk with us while we were in town. Unfortunately, because our schedule ended up being even more intense than we had originally planned we had no choice but to promise a dedicated meeting on our next trip to DC.
From there we moved on to talk to the counsel and staff of the House Judiciary Committee, with whom AFTA has worked for many years on related IPR and trade issues. This meeting with long-time AFTA supporters was a good place to start and we were specifically asked about our “ask” — how could the House Judiciary Committee help the AFTA Internet Sellers “fix” the IPR challenges we are facing? AFTA has a very good working relationship with these folks and I foresee continuing the conversation with them in an ongoing and constructive manner moving forward.
The next meeting was with Congressman Kevin Brady’s Legislative Assistant who handles Ecommerce issues. His communications Director (An old friend of mine who I used to do political blogging/activism with) joined us in the meeting. I was encouraged by how engaged Congressman Brady’s Ecommerce Legislative Assistant was with our message and they were open to meeting with us again when we return.
From there we moved on to a meeting with a legislative assistant in Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s office. We had a good conversation with them and they suggested a couple other contacts for us to follow up with. They also suggested that the AFTA Internet Sellers look into providing input to potentially assist in amending a recent E-commerce report that had been issued by the Administration to include our perspective on internet business and IPR challenges because, as issued, the Report solely focused on the problems of stopping counterfeit goods being sold on the Internet without at all mentioning the important role of third party sellers of genuine goods.
At this point we left Capitol Hill and headed to a meeting with Customs & Border Protection. CBP is in the midst of a big push to try and regulate ecommerce – primarily from the point of trying to keep counterfeit items from coming into the US in small packages directly to the consumer. Our timing for this meeting could not have been better; the day before AFTA had submitted a variety of comments to CBP related to proposed new regulations and policies which better enable CBP to fairly protect both brand owners and small business internet vendors like us. CBP is under pressure to facilitate the sharing of information with eCommerce platforms about the goods found at the border to be infringing or counterfeit. AFTA wants to make sure that any information shared with eCommerce platforms are sufficient to identify and remove counterfeit goods without resulting in all vendors of that product type being delisted. We were able to give them some insight into how a typical Amazon seller operates and while our issues are not directly related to CBP’s job of protecting borders, the Directors of IPR and ECommerce who were in the meeting wanted to know what we thought and willingly shared with us some of the dilemmas they are facing when a someone in the U.S. orders products on the Internet from somewhere overseas. This meeting showed us that the E-commerce “challenge” is much larger than the specific IP problems we are dealing with everyday. It is unlikely that we are going to be able to solve our problems in a vacuum, we will need to be more aware of all of the many e-Commerce/IPR related challenges the government faces and provide input on the specific challenges that they are facing in able to continue having a seat at the table.
From CBP we went back to Capitol Hill for our final, and in my opinion – most encouraging meeting of the day. AFTA leveraged their pre-existing connections on the hill to get us an appointment directly with Congressman Hank Johnson who is the Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee of Courts, IPR & Internet. Our appointment was for thirty minutes but Congressman Johnson (as well as two members of his staff) spent well over an hour talking to us about the concerns that we sellers have about “bully brands” who are abusing Copyright/Intellectual Property laws to restrict the ability of Ecommerce sellers like ourselves to provide legitimate products to the consumer. The Congressman and his staff were clearly interested and this is an important relationship we firmly established and we definitely plan on re-engaging with Congressman Johnson on our next visit
Several of the people that we spoke with on this trip asked us “So, you have convinced us that there is a problem – what are you wanting us to do about it?” We let them know that our goal of this trip was to introduce the AFTA Internet Sellers to Capitol Hill and to set the stage for our next trips. Our goal was not to ask for an immediate solution, but simply to introduce the problem and let them know that we intend to return with an “ask” on a subsequent visit. Congressman Johnson floated a couple of ideas for how this could be handled legislatively and AFTA has some suggestions on how to approach this moving forward as well.
All that said, this is not something that we will be able to accomplish without your help. The fact that we were in DC as AFTA’s newest members clearly made an impression on Capitol Hill because it meant we were serious and ready to do what it takes to get things changed. It was clear to me that even though AFTA Internet Seller membership to date has not been overwhelming, AFTA truly believes in protecting us, our issues and worked hard on our behalf to make this trip happen/our meetings productive. Personally, I intend to fund my trips to DC out of my own pocket as I believe that this is a cause worth fighting for but continued AFTA support and involvement is critical to our ultimate success.
We are planning on multiple AFTA trips to Capitol hill over the next few months and we want YOU to come with us on the next trip. Please reach out to me if you would be interested in accompanying us. We also NEED you to join AFTA to help us fund the fight against these “Bully Brands”. Currently, joining AFTA requires a minimum donation of $250 which isn’t much given the clear time and effort spent preparing for these meetings and the doors that their pre-existing relationships open for us.
Your membership in AFTA will help fund their efforts on our behalf and will clearly show your commitment to our group and our collective industry challenges. Please go to https://aftaus.com/afta-internet-sellers/ and take care of this as soon as you can.
I am interested in hearing YOUR thoughts on the matter – if AFTA pursues a legislative solution what form would you like it to take?