The House of Representatives has inserted SHOP SAFE—a piece of legislation that would make it extremely difficult for any individual to sell things online and equally difficult for any online platform to compete with Amazon—into a 3,000-page trade bill. It cannot remain there.
The “Stopping Harmful Offers on Platforms by Screening Against Fakes in E-Commerce” (SHOP SAFE) is a bill that claims to be about protecting consumers but is more likely to enrich big brands at consumers’ expense. SHOP SAFE would force pretty much any online service that allows people to buy and sell items to institute a draconian trademark protection system. If they don’t, they risk crushing liability for the actions of their users.
Let’s say you want to sell something online. Some used baby clothes. Or let’s say you have a small side business selling baby clothes you make yourself online. In either case, you might list your items online, on a website like Craigslist or Etsy. Let’s say you describe what you are selling as “onesies.” Under SHOP SAFE, this will be a lot more difficult to pull off than you might expect.
Because, unbeknownst to you or to most people, Gerber has a trademark registration for the word “onesies.” Under SHOP SAFE, pretty much every website you might use to sell your used or homemade item will have to use an automated trademark filter that would prevent you from selling anything that had “onesies” as part of the description.
Furthermore, under SHOP SAFE, all of these websites would be required to have a three-strike system. So if you used “onesies” three times in one year, you would find your account terminated. And that would be that for your attempts to sell things online.
Even if the trademark filters don’t get you, SHOP SAFE will lead to plenty of other hoops for you to jump through, from providing the platform with a copy of your government-issued ID to including the country of manufacture in each listing. Hope you didn’t cut off those tags!
And let’s say you are a buyer looking to buy used items, whether you’re trying to save money or want to lower your carbon footprint. Suddenly, it’s much harder to find listings for used items. Let’s also say you are someone looking to do less shopping on the monolith that is Amazon. Suddenly, there are fewer and fewer alternatives, since other platforms can’t afford to comply with SHOP SAFE. Let’s also say you are trying to buy from local, independent, or small sellers rather than giant, multi-billion dollar brands. Once again, there are fewer and fewer sellers on sites like Etsy, as they fall victim to SHOP SAFE.
When SHOP SAFE passed out of committee last year, many elected officials expressed serious concerns about this bill. And yet, with no changes, we find it jammed onto page 1672 of the America COMPETES Act.
The good news is that SHOP SAFE isn’t in the Senate version of this trade bill. We need to tell our Senators to keep it out of the final bill. Tell them that SHOP SAFE is bad for consumers and sellers of all kinds.