The worst has happened─you get the dreaded “We’ve suspended your selling account” message from Amazon. They’re holding your money and business hostage, and it feels like the walls are closing in.
Who can help you? What should you do? And that’s when you think perhaps an attorney is the way to go.
Before you speed down the legal eagle path, there are some things to consider.
First, have you read the Amazon Business Solutions Agreement lately? You should.
If it’s been a while or you’ve never read the Business Solutions Agreement (BSA), do it now. It is the agreement sellers must sign in order to sell on Amazon. While there are several key sections, one of the first things that may influence your decision to retain an attorney is the section titled “Miscellaneous”:
“The Governing Laws will govern this Agreement, without reference to rules governing choice of laws or the Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods. If the Elected Country is the United States, Canada, or Mexico, Amazon and you both consent that any dispute with Amazon or its Affiliates or claim relating in any way to this Agreement or your use of the Services will be resolved by binding arbitration as described in this paragraph, rather than in court…”
If you think you can sue Amazon, think again. You’re going to have to go through arbitration. While consulting with a lawyer is advisable, it’s not the same as filing a lawsuit. Also, arbitration is not any faster than pursuing action in the courts. What’s more, you’re signing away your rights to class-action suits, too. I strongly suggest reading the entire agreement.
I didn’t agree to all that, did I?!
If you accepted the BSA during registration, then yes, you agreed to all that and more. The old adage about never signing anything before you’ve read it applies; Amazon’s agreement is chock-full of caveats and clauses. Even after all this, you may still wonder if an attorney can help you. If so, read on.
What is the right tool or personnel?
It’s logical really to think, “Hey, lawyers are smart, they know so much and can write too─surely they can help me appeal my suspension … and they can scare Amazon into doing what I want!”
In a word, no.
Would you hire a plumber to fix your car? Or an electrician to plant your garden? To solve your problems with Amazon, you need the right tools and people to help. In many cases, hiring a lawyer isn’t the right approach; that person may be unable to fix the issue. Lawyers are smart but they’re likely unfamiliar with Amazon’s persnickety approach to problem resolution.
What is Amazon really looking for and who’s the best person to fix the problems? Generally, that’s going to be you. You know your business the best, and you likely can enlist support from a trusted seller, mentor or consultant. A lawyer’s approach often does not align with Amazon requirements. A lawyer is used to writing briefs and opinion letters but those are a significantly different animal than a written appeal to Seller Performance.
So, a lawyer is NO help?
Back to the BSA for a moment; the intellectual property section of the agreement outlines the rights and responsibilities of Amazon, as well as sellers, with respect to intellectual property, such as trademarks, copyrights, and patents. It also establishes a process for reporting and resolving intellectual property disputes between Amazon and sellers.
Failure to comply with intellectual property laws and Amazon’s policies can result in account suspension or legal action. And this is where you might find yourself needing a lawyer. If your product or account or both go down for some form of intellectual property violation, it can help to meet with an attorney to discuss:
- The kind of infringement Amazon is alleging
- How to determine if you’re infringing
- What avenues the law provides for disputing infringement
- How to communicate with Amazon and the rights owner
In cases where a product is taken down, an opinion letter from a lawyer that explains how your item isn’t infringing can be very useful. I also recommend talking to attorneys before problems begin, for things like:
- Developing a new product line that might have patent issues
- Securing a trademark or other intellectual property protections
- Creating a relationship with the attorney for future infringement issues
What’s the bottom line?
There’s a place for an attorney in your business when it comes to protecting your intellectual property and getting advice about how to address infringement issues. Opinion letters can be a helpful tool, but ultimately, you want to appeal to Amazon yourself or with the help of a consultant. A mentor or consultant can guide you effectively since they understand what Amazon wants, how to explain it concisely, and where to send appeals for the best outcomes.
As always, Riverbend Consulting is here to help. Contact us! Amazon. Solved(TM).