A great deal of business is done via online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay. For IP rights owners it can be difficult to identify and take action against infringements taking place via such websites. Takedown schemes can be a useful tool for stopping infringements on online marketplaces. However, use of such takedown schemes in the UK could bring the law on unjustified threats into play.

Both Amazon and eBay operate schemes whereby intellectual property (IP) rights owners can report alleged infringements of IP rights. Upon receiving a report of an alleged infringement of an IP right, the marketplace operator will typically block the alleged infringer from selling any further allegedly infringing products through its website. The marketplace operator wants to avoid any potential liability for infringement and hence will act quickly when receiving a report of an alleged infringement of an IP right. It does not look into the merits of the allegation of infringement before blocking the alleged infringer’s activities.

Thus, for IP rights owners, schemes such as those run by eBay and Amazon are a useful tool for stopping infringements. They offer a quick, convenient and powerful means to disturb an infringer’s activities and limit the damage caused by the alleged infringements.

For a business whose online activities are suspended as a result of Amazon or eBay acting on a reported infringement of an IP right, the inconvenience can be considerable. Initially, it may not be clear which IP right is alleged to be infringed. Further, it may be that the business considers that it is not infringing the IP right(s) in question.

When a dispute arises, the parties ideally might first try to resolve the dispute amicably. The online marketplace will generally be unwilling to get involved initially.

If an amicable resolution is impossible, then a person aggrieved by the report of alleged infringement of an IP right might be able to bring an action for unjustified threats.

Hence, those IP rights owners who would seek to make use of takedown schemes should be aware that they might face an action for unjustified threats. Equally, those on the receiving end (the alleged infringers) should be aware that they might be able to bring an action for unjustified threats, if efforts to resolve any dispute amicably are unsuccessful.