Wow. Earlier this year we wrote about a bill, basically pushed for by big offline retailers, that would regulate
online retailers. The big retailers made some bogus claims about an online "crimewave" that necessitated such legislation. Since that first bill was introduced in the house two other related bills have also been introduced, one in the House and one in the Senate. Earlier this week, hearings were held on the three bills, and the big retailers made the astounding claim that online auction sites need to be regulated because their "addictive qualities" lure perfectly innocent people into becoming shoplifters
to feed their habit of selling online:
"Thieves often tell the same disturbing story: they begin legitimately selling product on eBay and then become hooked by its addictive qualities, the anonymity it provides and the ease with which they gain exposure to millions of customers. When they run out of legitimate merchandise, they begin to steal intermittently, many times for the first time in their life, so they can continue selling online. The thefts then begin to spiral out of control and before they know it they quit their jobs, are recruiting accomplices and are crossing states lines to steal, all so they can support and perpetuate their online selling habit."
Nevermind that the actual stats
show that retail theft has been on the decline, while the majority of retail theft is actually due to insiders
. Yes, the problem isn't with online retailers magically luring perfectly innocent individuals into lives of crime, but the big retailers own employees swiping stuff. Yet, when stores were questioned why they don't do more to prevent in-store theft themselves, a representative from Safeway claimed: "our associates are there to sell groceries, not to be police officers." However, even though the problem is with their own employees, who they don't want to turn into police officers, the retailers are asking Congress to, instead, turn all online retailers into police officers for them.
The combination of bills under consideration would give offline retailers the power to demand that online retailers interrogate sellers to find out if the goods they're offering for sale were stolen. They would also include a DMCA-like notice and takedown provision, allowing retailers to force auctions offline with a single letter and little proof. Yet, the notice-and-takedown is even worse than the DMCA's already dreadful system in that there's no provision to deal with any abuse -- meaning retailers could abuse the system sending false takedown notices and burdening online retailers over and over again, and there would be no punishment. On top of that, the bills would put liability
on the retailers, directly contradicting the very point of section 230 of the CDA, which was designed to make sure liability went to the actually guilty party.
Basically, these three bills in combination are nothing more than a bogus effort
by big traditional retailers to put a ridiculous liability and burden on online retailers to fix a problem that isn't as big as they make it out to be, and which they, themselves, have the most control over -- though they purposely choose not to do much to exercise that control. And, finally, these big retailers make up a totally bogus and unsubstantiated claim that online selling "addiction" is drawing a large group of folks into an unanticipated life of crime. Hopefully Congress sees through this blatant attempt by big traditional retailers to put a bunch of hurdles in front of online sellers.