AS 68: Suspended on Amazon and what to do. Advice with CJ Rosenbaum
28 Oct 2016
Today I’ve got CJ Rosenbaum on the show. He is the founder of AmazonSellersLawyer.com, a law firm focused on Amazon sellers. Cj wrote the book: the Amazon Law Library. There firm spends the majority of their timing helping suspended sellers obtain reinstatement of their selling privileges.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to get suspended on Amazon
- Common reasons why sellers get suspension
- Get to know CJ
- How to fight against IP issues related to suspension
- Brand competition trying to shut you down
- How CJ became a lawyer
- Diversifying your Amazon business
- Multiple accounts on Amazon, and whether it’s a good or bad thing…
- What the difference is between suspensions and bans
- Who handles seller suspensions now
- The multiple levels of seller suspension
- Combatting IP Claims
- Combatting seller suspensions
- What works and what doesn’t work for seller suspension
- Trademarks, patents, seller suspensions
- Highs and lows of CJ’s journey
And much more!
Get in touch with CJ
Also worthy must-watch related to Suspension from the AmzSecrets show:
See how I got suspended and then got unsuspended on Amazon, all in the same day.
DAVID ALADDIN: Great to have on the show, CJ! Can you tell us where all begin?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Sure! Hey, Dave, great to be on the show! I love, love what you are doing! Powering people, powering people to be successful. You really could be the lion. I mean, there’s no opportunity ever in history of commerce that’s being provided like Amazon provided. Anybody with a cell phone and a credit card access to 80 million customers, it’s unheard of. I am really, I am really excited to be here!
What we do is we help seller when they get suspended. That’s probably 80% of our practice. We help people when they get suspended for what inauthentic, or you sold as new, or listing problems. That’s probably 40% of our time. Another 40% is spent dealing with intellectual property complaints. You know, a brand owner, or brand manager, or a big corporate America reaches out and they say you don’t have the right to sell their product. We deal with them. And we stay in toe-to-toe with the big firms and the big corporations, because the vast majority of those complaints are bullshit. And I hope my language is okay for your audience.
DAVID ALADDIN: Perfectly fine!
CJ ROSENBAUM: The vast majority of these intellectual property right complaints that you get are nonsense. Most of you are not taking the Nike solutions sticking it on a hat, or coping someone else’s verbiage and therefore there’s no IP basis, no intellectual property infringement. And they use the Amazon system and the flaws in the system, to get people in listing suspended. So day in and day out we get those complaints retracted by these companies who are using trademark bulling to hit the small people.
DAVID ALADDIN: And do you see a lot of these like major companies like take a… I mean, you are talking about Nike and… Did they have more leverage using their big brand presence versus smaller companies?
CJ ROSENBAUM: You know they don’t. In fact they have more liabilities actually, you know. Because let’s take a big brand, you know, like Cisco, or HP, or Samsung. And they make a complaint, and when you stand up to them, you say: hey, you know what? We know it is nonsense, and you know it is nonsense. They have lawyers on staff and those lawyers know they are going to have to withdraw, or they going to encore liability. Not only did they spend tons of money selling their products, they spend a fortune protecting their brand image.
So, when we tell them: hey, by the way, we know it is nonsense, and you are putting a mom and a pop in Nebraska out of business or you are taking a company with fifty employees, and now they are going to lay people off, you know, they worry about that stuff. More so that the smaller brands. So, the big brands bring it on. We got them to take back their complaints day in and day out. Walmart, major brands, the biggest companies on the planet, we get them to withdraw their complaints, cause they are bullshit.
DAVID ALADDIN: Yeah, they are. Let’s talk about you before we go into what you do. Where did your story begin?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, I guess mine began at home. All right! I went to law school because me…all my buddies who were graduating, we were graduating college, none of us had jobs. So, you know, instead of being unemployed, nothing to do. I went to law school. And I loved the business law classes. I loved taking all the David versus Goliath, so I went to law school. And as soon as got back, those same buddies starting buying and selling businesses, and opening stores from like the hot-dog trucks in Manhattan to stores, to ATM businesses, to all sorts of different projects.
So, we went to representing entrepreneurs over twenty years. And one of my long-term clients and a really great friend bought into a business on Amazon and within a few weeks they got suspended. And so, he calls me up, you know: what we are going to do about it? And I started looking for someone who really had a focus on Amazon sellers. And there was nobody out there.
So, I saw it, I loved working with entrepreneurs, so I dove in and never looked back. And now it takes up 95% of our time here. You got a staff, multiple lawyers, multiple paralegals, I got great Amazon analysts. And I love it! And I love working with entrepreneurs. We represent clients around the world from the small guys doing a couple thousand dollars a week, to a couple doing a quarter billion dollars a year. And all of you guys; every single last one of you, dread and fear that e-mail that your account is suspended, or your best assign is offline. And that’s what we do day in and day out. We help you get back online. Either the whole account or your products!
DAVID ALADDIN: I am like in the boat. Like I click to login in Amazon, and I am not sure what to expect. Am I going to see that white and red banner come across my screen? I am like… I am fearful overtime I login, because I just don’t know what’s going to happen. Okay, so, in 1996 basically you started this whole process. And it started with this one guy that reached out to you for help. And you were probably doing some other type of law before that, right?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, the Amazon step was much later. In ’96 I was involved with… When the internet just started to explode, and people were building websites, I was part of a group called The New York New Media Association, was the silicon alley organization where… I mean, it was me and probably, you know, twenty different site developers. And it was building sights, but no one had any idea how we were going to make money on it. As the years progressed, I did a lot of litigation, a lot of trial work. And then, you know, landed here, working here with entrepreneurs’ day in and day out.
DAVID ALADDIN: Where are you based by the way?
CJ ROSENBAUM: New York, we have an office in Manhattan, an office in a town called Long Beach, it’s about 10 miles east to Kennedy airport. We should be opening in Seattle soon. I got satellite offices in Shenzhen, China, and also in London.
DAVID ALADDIN: Jesus! I feel like this is the entrepreneur’s dream/lawyer! But for the listeners tuning in that don’t have the visual input he actually took me almost like on a tour through his offices and that’s pretty elaborate.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, it is great. We work… We have this open office setup where it is just great. It is a lot of collaboration. We have meetings, you know, every day. We all compare notes. Everyone’s responsible for staying up to date on what’s going on Amazon, not only from the what we do, but for what you guys base and the policy changes. And we monitor the Facebook groups. And we are constantly talking to each other. Because you know, listen, 1: we’ll never know your business as well as you do, and number 2: not only they are erratic, but they are constantly changing. So, it is great. We spend every single day working for Amazon sellers.
DAVID ALADDIN: Let’s talk about their policy changes. I mean, tell us like some of the latest policy changes that you’ve seen going on.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Sure! Since about the mid August… You know, there’s always, always this focus on consumer, consumer, consumer, even when the customer’s ripping off sellers. So, it has been a customer centric company, which has served them, and it also served us very, very well. They’ve added towards the end of the summer this brand centric policy where they are limiting the amount of sellers on major brands, and also protecting the brands a bit more. I mean, doing this under these guys of stopping counterfeit… And the counterfeit promise has dropped dramatically. But that’s the latest ship that’s affecting a ton of sellers, is this new brand centric.
It is not necessarily a problem, it is just a pivot point for business people, you know. If you are selling certain goods, source it yourself, make your own brand. Have you thrown a lot of money on major brands, you got to diversify a bit, so just in case, you know, you get knocked out of the Box on Nike, you are pivoting into something else?
A lot of people, you know, a lot of other people who do Amazon, like call themselves consultants. They are doing all sorts of dooming gloom on these suspensions. And it is nonsense. We are successful as ever, but from a business perspective, I need you need to protect yourself, you need to diversify as much as Amazon is diversifying. You know, make sure you in-separate product-clients, create your own brand, get your own brand gating, so you can protect your stuff from other sellers jumping on it. And all of this is another opportunity for all of us to sort of…to increase our game, to be better business people.
DAVID ALADDIN: Speaking of diversification, I heard in another channel that you mentioned some sellers are actually using multiple seller accounts. Can you go more into that?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah, ok! Listen, I am a business lawyers, okay? I work with Amazon sellers, but I certainly don’t work for Amazon. My job is to keep you guys making money. So, when it comes to multiple accounts, each of you needs to make a decision: risk versus reward, right? Is it more risky to have one account that can get suspended at the drop of a dime with no notice, right? Or is it better to have multiple accounts where you are taking the risk at getting caught, right?
So, it really depends on how good of a business person you are, what your volume is, whether you have different product lines, and how careful you can be at not getting caught. You know, you can’t share computers, IP addresses, cell phones, you don’t load spreadsheets with the same products, different bank accounts, different owners, different entities, different domain names, different domain hosting companies. So, if you can do this, and do it carefully, and not get caught by Amazon, well, then it is a great idea, because if one account gets suspended, you are still making money on your other three or four accounts. But on the other hand, if you are not careful enough, you don’t treat it like real separate businesses and separate entities, you know, you can really screw yourself, because you get caught and everything is shut down. So, really, to me it is a business decision. It is not whether it does or it does not comply with Amazon. It is what’s best for you, what’s going to make you most money.
DAVID ALADDIN: Just to dive deeper into that for a little bit, how are they accessing multiple computers from one location? Is it just like they are using… like one of these high made cloud base to teleport into another computer? What’s going on there?
CJ ROSENBAUM: How do my clients do it, or how does Amazon catch you?
DAVID ALADDIN: How do your clients do it?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, every single client… When you call me, whether to hire me, or you know where I am going with this. Clients that called, whether they hire me or not, your information is 100% confidential. You get that with a lawyer. You don’t get that with a non lawyer. So, I can’t tell you how my clients are doing it, but I can give you some general advice.
DAVID ALADDIN: Sure, yeah…
CJ ROSENBAUM: Okay? Most people shoot out these IP switchers or IP hiders that are one line of defense. There is no reason why you need to go to the same account with the same computer. You never ever want to use the same phone. Don’t do business from home. Don’t allow your staff access to multiple accounts. Right? Do business at different banks. If you have one domain hosted at GoDaddy, put the other one in HostMonster, or one of the other dozen or so hosting sites.
Don’t use the same domain. I mean, you really… If you are going to do this, if you are going to maintain or setup multiple Amazon accounts, you got to treat it almost as if each one is a separate freaking motor store. Okay? And one of the biggest issues I am seeing over the last month or so, is as businesses grow, you bring on staff, right. When you are hiring somebody, you know, it is great if you bring someone who knows Amazon a bit, but on the other hand if they sign on to their account from your location, you going to get nailed.
If they’d sign to your store from home, you know, you are going to get nailed. And then you got to figure out, you know, which of my twenty employees, you know, blew it by signing onto their account. So, if you are careful, it is a great idea. How Amazon is doing it, I don’t know. You know, they are way smarter than I am. They have PhDs working for them, and I am jurist doctor, not a PhD doctor.
DAVID ALADDIN: Well, you seem very tech savvy in this regard. I mean, you are talking about IP addresses, most people don’t know what you are talking about. I hope… I think some of our listeners are pretty tech savvy as well, but… Very interesting.
CJ ROSENBAUM: You just got to keep it really, really separate. And you have to be religious and perfect about it. Keep it… If you are doing multiple accounts, keep it separate. Because they have really great technology. It is a little bit easier if you like an urban environment than in-a-roll area, but you just got to make sure it is separate. You got to keep everything separate if you are going to go to multiple accounts rep.
DAVID ALADDIN: Before we get into the solar suspensions, I noticed something interesting about your domain. It actually has the word Amazon in it. It is actually very SEO centric and strategic. But are you ever concerned that Amazon might get mad at you for using their trade mark in your domain?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, the Amazon River has existed for longer than mister Bezos and his company has existed, so I felt pretty safe. Also, you know, I am not an adversary to Amazon, I help sellers do better and make them more money. And I was very concerned about it, I still am. So, they came after me, we had a little battle over, we’d see what would happen, but just like Amazon, and just like each one of you should be diversified, I’ve got backup domains. If something happened and a federal judge said: hey, CJ, your domain is gone, we’ll be up in a couple days running with a new domain and I’d have to call you and say: get me back on your show, you got to let tell you about the new domain.
DAVID ALADDIN: Well, some people, they just setup a re-direct from one domain to another, which you can do, if they decided to do that. Hope that never happened. But I was, you know, when I was creating Amazon Secrets, or amzsecrets , same case scenario, so… I had that slight moment of decision there.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah, it is stressful. You don’t need to wake up Goliath to come, you know, step on us. What I, what we do here is we stand with you against the Goliath, okay? And Amazon treats sellers, whether you do a couple grand a month, or a quarter billion dollars a year, they pretty much treat you the same. You know, their biggest sellers do get some breaks, they can withstand a lot more policy notification than the smaller guys. But across the board Amazon sellers live in fear of that e-mail that notice.
DAVID ALADDIN: I am always in fear, so… I am sure tons of people are. Okay, so let’s say Nike has an issue with one of products that I am selling, they have an IP issue. How do you get them to back down?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, mostly begin at the back down, because their IP, the grounds for the complaint are generally up there. Here is the basic of IP law. Here is Intellectual Property law 1-on-1. Trademark. Trade mark is like the Nike shoes, or the McDonald’s M. And if you take that mark and you put it on your own hat, or on your own shirt, you’ve infringed upon their rights, because you’ve taken their mark and stuck it on your product, okay? Number 1!
Number 2 is copy right. Copy right is a written material, something that you created. It could be a picture, it could be a drawing, could be a dance, could be comic routine. In our business is generally the verbiage on the packaging out the description, okay? You cut and paste their verbiage and stuck it on your box? You are violating their rights, okay? Counterfeiters or fake products? Trade dresses like using the same colors and shapes that would make up like a trade mark, only it is not filed yet. And patent is an invention. The vast majority of sellers are not violating any of these laws, because you are mostly buying and re-selling products without changing them, or you are building them yourself, or having them built for you.
So, most of the complaints are baseless, if you went out and you bought a truckload of Air Jordans, okay? Or case of Air Jordans of the back of a truck, okay? And you are selling them, you are selling them under what’s called the first sale doctrine. There’s been no significant change to the product, and there’s no IP violation. Even though Amazon allows a complaint to asserted, and Amazon knocks you off the listing, or suspends you, it doesn’t mean the complaint has any validity. Amazon doesn’t have much of a gatekeeper in terms of entirely baseless complaints, and ones that might have some merit, okay?
But the vast majority of the complaints are just nonsense, there’s no violation of anything. You are buying stuff off the discount rack, you know, in Wisconsin, cause bad weather is coming and no one’s going to be buying, you know, tennis socks or a few months, and you are selling them to Amazon buyers in Miami, you are not violating anybody’s rights. It is nonsense. It is how we are able to get them to withdraw.
We point out their nonsense, then we point out their potential liability, then we point out that they are engaging in trade mark bullying, and we keep upping the pressure until the cooperation say: you know, that’s it, you are right, you know, and a lot of corporate America is covering their own behind. So, we put their behinds on the line, you know. We get a complaint from a lawyer, and that lawyer has now put himself involved in the fact of the complaint, let me have them! Because they cannot do that, because they do not have personal knowledge of anything. And people fear. If I see a lawyer’s name on there, I am like: this is great, we’ll knock this one out of the box.
DAVID ALADDIN: Awesome! That is cool! Okay, let’s go into suspensions. Let’s say like I get suspended, and I am looking to get unsuspended. I am going to go to you. And then…what happens then?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, first thing we do is to reveal the reason of the suspension. And as the seller performance and product quality job shifted to India, and also to Ireland and Costa Rica, the notices you are getting are slightly different, and the responds are slightly different. And of India, they are much more specific that you’ll know inauthentic, we’ll put your invoices together, we’ll send them back out, they’ll come back with specific questions that you need to respond to, you know, be more… you know, explain more how you are going to prevent this in the future, explain more about what you immediately did to correct the problem. And send that out, and we get you reinstated.
It is still a multistep process. Like it is rare that the first plan of action gets you reinstated. But what we are also seeing out of India is a much faster turnaround, you know? It used to be, you know, maybe four, five days, or a week was the average response to our plan, and now it is like almost instantaneous. I mean same day/next day responses where while the complaints and the suspensions are coming in much faster, all reinstatements are getting obtained much, much faster.
DAVID ALADDIN: Yeah… I don’t know if you saw the episode. It was five episodes ago. I actually got suspended on Amazon. And it was like an autobot suspension. I changed my phone number and they auto suspended me. Have you seen that before?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of it. We’ve seen a lot of it in the UK, on the UK accounts where it started; UK is a tremendous pain in the neck to deal with. Where anything in the account changes, all of the sudden it is verification issue, or we are these things like it says: your desired use of the funds is against Amazon policy, which is ridiculous.
DAVID ALADDIN: That is weak!
CJ ROSENBAUM: Desired use? If I want to go buy a sports car and Amazon doesn’t like the fact that I want to buy a sports car, instead of driving my minivan, they are going to hold my money back? Any change of the account, you want to avoid, right? You know, if you are unhappy with your bank, suck it up, keep the bank account to avoid the potential issue with Amazon!
DAVID ALADDIN: Seriously, if I knew this before going into… My sells actually…when…they dropped like 30% when this suspension happened just because all my organics went down the drain. It gone back up to a 70% to 80%. But just changing my phone number was disastrous. I learned my lesson.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah! You want to avoid it. If you do a business, chugging along, don’t change. You know, we also represent people when they are buying or selling businesses, and all familiar include Amazon accounts. And that’s a whole another beast, because Amazon prohibits you from selling, which is also nonsense. They have to handle it in a very specific ways that the account doesn’t lose all its value. But if you are chugging along, stay with the bank! Who cares if you don’t like you bank service? Suck it up! There’s no reason to change names, or brands.
Just keep going along. And you get… There’s a saying. It’s an old…this guy is from Louisiana, it is an old cage lawyer that I am friends with, said: it is easier to ride the horse in the direction that’s gone, right? And it basically means: don’t rock the boat! Don’t need to change anything, don’t change it. You are making money, why rock the boat? All these things can lead to suspensions needlessly. And you’re losing those sales, and you got the aggravation, you got the cost to hire someone to assist you. So, things like that, just avoid, avoid any changes, or avoid notifying Amazon of changes.
DAVID ALADDIN: Yeah, but I got a new phone number! I needed to change it!
CJ ROSENBAUM: How much aggravation, how much money does that new number worth?
DAVID ALADDIN: Thousands…Tens of thousands of dollars, just destroyed. Like, it just evaporates it! It is disgusting! Brings back bad memories.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah, and for what? For a new phone number! Just tell the old girlfriend to stop calling you!
DAVID ALADDIN: She keeps calling… Alright, so, what about tips for getting unsuspended? Let’s say… Because when I submitted my appeal for getting unsuspended, it was…you are right, it happens a lot faster now. That’s actually a good thing, you know, that they are responding faster. But what if they say no? What’s the limit to how many times we can apply?
CJ ROSENBAUM: I haven’t seen any limit. I know people have talked about limits at some of the trade shows, and the trade events, and the other suspension people. We have not seen any limit. We haven’t seen any reason for limitations and how many times you should submit. We generally try to avoid going up the food chain for as long as possible, because as you go higher up, if you get knocked down, it’s a barrier. So you might as well take a lot bites at the apple, you know, at the lower level on Amazon.
But I haven’t seen any limit. Someone mentioned it would be 12, or 8, or 6. Listen; here is the honest truth about Amazon, okay? Nobody knows exactly what they are doing, even the people that work for them, even those of us who have inside connections and we talk to people, because the people inside don’t really know what’s going all the time. Plus they are constantly changing. Plus, on top of all of that, every policy the institute is put in erratically. So you have nobody really knows, nobody knows the changes, and when the changes come in, they are no applied in any uniform fashion. Okay? What we see are the trends. What we see what’s working, what’s working faster.
DAVID ALADDIN: Let’s talk about…you mentioned going up the chain of Amazon. Can we talk about the stages of going up? What does that look like?
CJ ROSENBAUM: There are basically four different levels. 1: you got Product Quality and Seller Support, right? Seller Performance, they are the ones dealing with the basic plan of actions, mostly in India, but also in Ireland and in Costa Rica. Then you have the Policy Teams that you are having a step above them there you can also submit things to, if you are done banging your head against the wall at the lower level or the live stress, you just have to have patience and keep plugging away.
After the Policy Teams, if you strike out there, you can do what’s called the Bezos escalation, which is a whole team of people, who are multiple teams of people on multiple continents. They are supposed to… If you escalate to the Bezos team, they are supposed to go back and start from scratch, and review your initial plan of action with all your additional submissions. And then come to a decision. I don’t particularly like going there, because when the Bezos team says no, you can’t really go back down the food chain, okay? So we avoid that. And then if you still striking out, and you’ve done that, if there are any issue that are right to go to the legal department… we’ve sent some things there, and escalated that way.
And then you final things, if you are really getting screwed, and you lost a lot of money where they are holding back you product and withholding your money, you can always go to arbitration, to the American Arbitration Association. But again, hopefully… We try to resolve as many things as possible at the first run at the ladder, Sellers support/Product Quality/Sellers Performance.
DAVID ALADDIN: I feel like this first level is where… it is definitely… it sounds like it is the easiest. I mean, just a bunch of people in India that are responding in India that are responding to these cases and, you know, you might get one evil Indian. But then, on the other hand, there might be a nice guy that’s like: oh, yeah, I do feel for this seller over in America. So it’s just that you never know what you are going to get. But then if you go into like the Bezos team, those are like the Americans, and they might actually be much more analytical, even if you are in the wrong, you know, to deny you in that sense.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Let me take it a step back. We talk to people in India, okay? And we interview them, and we wrote a few articles, and some posts around the web and in our blog. Their people in India are pretty well educated. They are underpaid, but they really like their jobs because unlike a lot of companies, Amazon is being good to the Indian people. They are giving them chances at advancement. So, the people that land those jobs, they really want to keep those jobs. They are really trying to do the right thing. They are also much more direct in what they are looking for from you.
So, I am really happy when we feel like we’re dealing with India because they are direct, and they are trying to do the right thing. So, I like dealing with them. When it comes to the Bezos team, I don’t like dealing with them, because they shoot you down, you know, and you are done. I’d rather submit something five, or ten, or fifteen times to lower levels because each one of those submissions can result in a reinstatement, or at least narrowing the issues that the sellers are facing.
So, I am a big fan of going to Bezos Escalations, and to those other people are: I think that if you have any chance of being reinstated at a lower level, it’s better, because the lower guys are not going to reverse the Bezos team.
DAVID ALADDIN: What is the most amount appeals you have done at the lower level like … do you have a number on that?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Probably between 15 and 20…
DAVID ALADDIN: Around 20 or between that number it worked, right?
CJ ROSENBAUM: We are generally successful.
DAVID ALADDIN: That’s awesome!
CJ ROSENBAUM: Bumped my head against the wall, you know, I am kind of a tenacious guy and nobody backs a thousand; I know there is one company out there who is advertising themselves at the 100% successful and they are full of shit because there is no 100% success in anything, okay, being an entrepreneur, being a lawyer, it just doesn’t exist. But we are generally successful and we do it through certain mechanisms, you know, sometimes sitting on it a bit and then resending in something just verb it with a different … a slightly different verbiage is helpful, different changes to the business, you know, every plan of action should have, you know, like the root cause of a problem, identify what caused the problem, what you need to do to fix it and then more importantly, your long-term changes to your business where Amazon doesn’t have to deal with this problem again in the future.
And sometimes you have to think it through, come up with some ideas or brainstorm as to how you are going to prevent the problem in the future. Also, a big problem that I know that they are seeing on the other side is that the people in India getting these forms, you know, people go on to certain websites, pay 3 or 4 or 5 hundred bucks to get a form that is just their store inserted and slight changes, you know, that form has been seen hundreds or thousands of times.
So they see that, they know you are full of shit just using a form … so I would recommend either you do these things yourself and you really tailor it for your business or you hire someone reputable to handle it for you but I am really against these forms sellers, I think they are just bad business for sellers.
DAVID ALADDIN: I noticed you got featured on Huffington Post and CNBC and there was actually a yahoo.com article we were talking about in the last two or three episodes about … his name was Mark Lopreiato, he is the founder of Forearm Forklift; he has a patented product and they are being counterfeited like crazy on Amazon, I looked up his listing and had probably 10 to 15 similar products on this patented product and he is complaining how it is destroying his business. And you were actually mentioned directly in the article and I am like “oh, I am about to interview CJ, what is going on here” … it is a pure coincidence but obviously there is some strategy there.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, he is not my client, I was questioned by the reporter, he is a great guy out of Seattle and so he calls us because as far as I am aware we are the preeminent law firm in this area, we wrote the book, we have analyzed just about every case we could find involving Amazon, we have written a book about selling fashion, we have got a new suspension book coming online in another month or so … so you know, I am blessed to be here and questions about issues, they give me a buzz and I am happy to answer questions whether you are from CNBC or little, smaller audience.
DAVID ALADDIN: So what advice do you have for him?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, when it comes to patents … a patent is a license from the government to sell a certain invention for a certain period of time, you are the only person allowed to sell it. So if you have a great idea, you really should patent it right away where there are some kind of band aid things you could do to protect yourself. When people start hijacking on your idea, you need to stand up and have someone stand with you to stop them and the Amazon platform is not perfect in terms of protecting patent holders but it is not awful either, you know, there is kind of formula to it … cease and desist letter, a notice to Amazon and many of the people who are hijacking your listing or stealing your intellectual property rights will get right off because they don’t want their account at risk of suspension.
So a lot of times you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar … so let’s say there are 10 infringers. By just simply contacting them with a cease and desist, half of them might be gone; the others might take a little bit more persuading, a little more action, you know, with Amazon on their team but I think there are a lot of ways to protect your intellectual property rights. What you also got to make sure is that you actually protect your rights properly, you know, when we are defending someone accused of a trademark issue, you know, we check the trademark office and many times the trademark wasn’t done properly or they haven’t protected what they think they have protected.
So each case is different but there are some things you just need to do; someone accuses you of something, did they really have a trademark, was it done properly, maybe not. If you have any idea, I can guide you in how to protect yourself, you know, if you are a small business owner or large, the same protections are available to you and it doesn’t cost a million dollars and it is really important – if you have a great idea that you protect it.
DAVID ALADDIN: What is the difference between being suspended and banned? Is banned like a permanent “you never get to see the light again”?
CJ ROSENBAUM: They come to your home and they kill you. There is no Amazon police, okay? No one is coming at any of your doors and put you in jail for any violation of any of Amazon’s policies, okay? That is why to me, it is all business decisions … I lost my train of thought, I lost your question.
DAVID ALADDIN: Well, just to jump in … they are just starting a logistics company, they might start a police academy, you never know.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah, you never know its only logistics, planes, boats from China and police departments.
DAVID ALADDIN: I was mentioning … what is the difference between like suspensions and bans, yeah?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Oh, okay, alright. Suspension is either for a particular product or your whole account is down temporarily and that is when you submit a plan of action to get reinstated; sometimes it has an IP complaint and you got to get that complaint withdrawn, other times it is providing invoices or showing you can have better packaging or do better with your listings or change of pictures or you know, the whole host of different reasons. What people refer to as a ban is when they can’t log on, you go to log on and it is like if you never existed; and some people look at that as “I can never get back on”.
We have been successful at getting people’s accounts reinstated even though they can’t log on and that is referred to as a ban. Or you can open up a new account in a way that they don’t link the two accounts. So in reality, I don’t think anyone is ever banned because if you are careful, you can open up a new account with a different name or different partner and a different product line; so I don’t think there really is any ban, just something you have to be careful about and it is a business decision.
What really inspires me about dealing with this is that, you know, typically 30 years ago, you open up a store at a strip mall, right? And you are selling, you know, pizza or gift cards or toys or women’s gowns or whatever you are selling and the landlord says “you know what, I don’t like you, I don’t like the way you are doing business, I am going to evict you, your lease is over, get out”, right? You would have notice, you can go rent space at another mall across town or across the street and go right back into business. Amazon is like they own the whole freaking planet and they kick you out, right, there is no other Amazon to go to. Hopefully, jet.com is going to grow tremendously and there actually will be another platform that competes with Amazon but, you know, I saw that and I was like “holy cow, this can’t be true” … there has to be a way around it to get back on the planet, you know, to get back to selling. And that is one of the things I love, I mean, I love getting our sellers back on either through channels or outside channels.
DAVID ALADDIN: I think you bring up very solid points like if you get suspended on Amazon, it is like getting suspended from online e-commerce, you can have your own website but the majority of traffic and the majority of shoppers are now on the Amazon platform. It is so much power for one company to have the keys to the online marketplace.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah, they say like one out of three searches and 50 cents out of every dollar are flowing through Amazon … that is tremendous. I was approached by a class action layer on the east coast who wanted to see if I wanted to get involved in trying to break them up and I think it was Trump who brought it up a few months ago …
DAVID ALADDIN: Oh man …
CJ ROSENBAUM: For being broken up, maybe they are, maybe they are not, I don’t know. My job is to get you back on – that is my job; that is how I see my role – getting you back to making money, back in business. I am not here to break the world, I am here to help my sellers make money on it.
DAVID ALADDIN: Do you think Jet has a chance at taking like part of their … they have got a long way to go but … are you going to create a jet.com domain?
CJ ROSENBAUM: You know what, ha-ha, I don’t have the domains, we haven’t built anything on them yet but I feel like they can get a run for their money, they have got a tremendous amount of money behind them and there are tremendous number of sellers who are unhappy with Amazon and yeah, I do, I think eventually they could be competitive, it is going to take some time and some careful planning. They have some really smart people and a ton of money behind them so why not? There was a time long ago, there was one phone company.
Every single telephone in the United States was one telephone company was called Ma Bell – that’s how they referred to it, right? And they got broken up by the government and now you have got cell phones and how you have got South-West Bell and Verizon and a million different phone companies. I mean look at Blackberry – that was it, man – in all terms that was like the cat’s “meow”, right? And they are gone, they don’t even make handsets anymore.
So are they vulnerable? Yeah, I think they are totally vulnerable because you come in, do it better, do it smarter and prove upon it. Jet has got a lot of money behind it and the goal there is to treat sellers a bit better; they have got some really cool programs where if you are closer to the buy, you can sort of opt in or opt out of a particular sale and they have sort of volume discounts for sellers where if you are selling multiple products, you can get a better deal which then results in better prices for the consumers. Yeah, I think they can totally come in and get a nice, big chunk of the market.
DAVID ALADDIN: I have begun listing products on Jet but I find it actually more harder to list on Jet than Amazon, it is really surprising that they have been able to get such a strong hold … you have to use like a third-party API to list products on Jet. I don’t know if you have seen it and it just didn’t make sense to me … like, why don’t they just create their own listing platform like within Jet?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah, I thought the same thing … that’s a bit pain in the neck to get your products on, I suspect it would get ironed out and get easier as time goes on.
DAVID ALADDIN: It better.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Every business, big or small, has bumps on the road; this is just one of theirs, you know, Amazon, Jet, Walmart, you know … I was on the phone with an entrepreneur about an hour or so ago and she is really bumped, she made a mistake and some potential liability that we have to work to protect her from. I say, you know what, at Disney, you know, Walt Disney went out of business a few times before he hit it big, right? Trump has filed for bankruptcy several times, right, at least looking after his businesses; Hershey, Hershey Chocolate, Ford Motors, you know, every entrepreneur has had ups and downs so this is one of their problems. And we have all … anyone who has been in business long enough has had significant ups and downs so keep at it and make money and you will be successful.
DAVID ALADDIN: Can we talk about some of your ups and downs? What is one of your biggest lows versus your highest?
CJ ROSENBAUM: I’d tell you … I guess my biggest low was when I was in a court battle with my ex-wife and I was so personally involved, it was so important to me, it had to do with my daughter and that really was difficult to stay focused on business and business suffered. But I am really blessed that almost all my clients I develop personal relationships with and I was able to call them and say “hey listen, I have some issues going on, I am not working full-time, can you give me a little bit more time?” That probably, professionally, was probably the lowest time that I had.
Other low was when I was younger and I made a boat load of money really quick and changed my lifestyle and I moved from a real conservative area to what is called Battery Park City in Manhattan, and my rent was through the roof, and the rent for my parking spot was more than the rent for my prior apartment all together, and we would go to Europe for weekends …
DAVID ALADDIN: You say this was a low?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, it was a low because I spent all my money …
DAVID ALADDIN: I don’t … you guys are crazy about New York, I don’t know how people afford to live there, like … we visited this girl that lived there and her rent was 4K for one bedroom … it is like … you can live in a nice house for 4K a month …
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well but a mansion for 4 thousand a month …
DAVID ALADDIN: Seriously, on like waterfront …
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah.
DAVID ALADDIN: It is insane.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Business is a learning process, it is a life experience …
DAVID ALADDIN: Speaking of your divorce, I actually can almost relate, I broke up with my girlfriend, we got back together, I couldn’t do business at all, I was just in the rut, you know, I was the one who broke up with her so I was like “why am I feeling like this” and so … I don’t even know how would divorce would be, I couldn’t even imagine like how you were able to any work during that period of time.
CJ ROSENBAUM: My divorce was liberating; bad marriages are awful. There is a joke about … you know why divorce is so expensive?
DAVID ALADDIN: Go ahead.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Because it is worth it. When the kids are caught in the middle, that is problematic and that is difficult but I see, I am not a big proponent of divorce, if you can work it out, I think you should; but my divorce was one of the best things that had ever happened to me, I remarried, my wife is awesome, kind and sweet and nice, and awesome home life and supportive. And so to me it was liberating, it gave me a whole new life, you know, I got my daughter from my first marriage and I got two awesome stepchildren and I got my little beast together and so if some of you are teetering back and forth, if you can save your marriage, do it; if it ends up ending, take it as a blessing and start your life over.
DAVID ALADDIN: It is awesome advice …
CJ ROSENBAUM: … business lawyer.
DAVID ALADDIN: Alright, let’s talk about your highs; I guess that’s one of your highs, what else do you have?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Highs business-wise is the incredible growth that we are experiencing; I was a long-time trial lawyer and I got into this after that phone call and it shifted the practice; it is great, I love working with entrepreneurs. A week or so ago I was in China which was awesome, I was on the Great Wall of China last Saturday and that was cool, I speak at Amazon events all over the US and now over in Asia and it is just great. We have got a lot of people in the UK we represent and it is just … I mean, I am having fun every day, it is stressful and you are thinking about it and every client that calls in, you know, it is emergency because they have to get back online as quickly as they can, we do a 48-hour turnaround on every case which means we are constantly growing and constantly fine tuning and I work a lot of hours but it is great, I mean it is a lot of fun. So I am on a high right now, this is great. I love it. I am going back to China in a few weeks …
DAVID ALADDIN: I am actually … I want to go to China as well, you know.
CJ ROSENBAUM: It is awesome.
DAVID ALADDIN: Want to meet the manufactures. What is one thing … because you don’t source your products so what are you doing in China?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well, what I am doing there is I am meeting with Amazon sellers who are selling products in the US, the UK and as Amazon is trying to develop a market within China, you know, and also just developing relationships. I mean if you are sourcing in China, you know, and you need help with the contract, I kind of know what I am doing; I am attending an intellectual property rights meeting at the end of November and yeah. There are a lot of great stuff to learn, you know, they are smart, savvy business people. Also I travelled to Seattle and New Mexico and Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey; I have clients everywhere. It is great, it is great.
DAVID ALADDIN: How many days on the road are you …?
CJ ROSENBAUM: I try and limit it to about a week or month …
DAVID ALADDIN: That’s a lot.
CJ ROSENBAUM: Yeah, it is a lot, I know, I love travelling.
DAVID ALADDIN: That’s good. We have about 5 minutes left. Can you give us a way to contact you?
CJ ROSENBAUM: Sure. The website is amazonsellerslawyer.com; sellers is plural, lawyer is singular. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; again, sellers is plural, lawyer is singular. Our phone number is 212-256-1109 or 877-9-SELLER. So there is the website, I try and call back every single seller that reaches out to us; I know a lot of … I know one of my competitors who is not a lawyer, charges like 500 bucks just to get her to call you back; to me that is Ludacris, I mean, how could someone take money from you before they even know whether they can help you or not, you know.
So, you know, I talk to everyone initially for free, I can’t stay on the phone for an hour but we give free consultations with me to just about every single caller, it is a bit harder when I am travelling but if you call or you email, I will get back to you the best that I can usually within a day or so. And then figure out do I think I can help you or if I can help you help yourself and then if you need us, we will work out a fair fee to get you back on.
DAVID ALADDIN: I think I had her on the show a while ago. It would be interesting to see you guys have like in a double conversation …
CJ ROSENBAUM: Well we did actually …
DAVID ALADDIN: Yes.
CJ ROSENBAUM: At Midwest E-Com which is an awesome show to go to; it is run by a guy named Travis and it was in July or August and just awesome. Travis puts together a really, really great event in a really affordable venue, it is easy to get to, it is easy to attend and so Midwest E-Com is awesome; if you can get there – go. It is a great event and I was on stage with Cynthia Stine …
DAVID ALADDIN: Yeah, that’s who we were talking about.
CJ ROSENBAUM: And we will follow back and forth and listen, she … I personally, I like her, she is nice person, you know, she does have a lot of good information. But I just see things a bit differently, I don’t think that I would feel comfortable taking money unless I thought I can help somebody. Sometimes somebody calls and the answer is “no, I am really sorry but I think you are screwed, let’s think of an alternative way of getting you back in business”, you know, not every patient can be saved and I wouldn’t feel right by taking 500 bucks to tell them “thanks for the 500 bucks, you are dead in the water”.
Well, we have had our back and forth and I am not one to say bad things, you know, I read her book, I thought it had a lot of good information it in, I would like her to stop
me if she is and she myself like … this is how life always seemed as, okay? If you have a group of people doing something like a group of fancy restaurants like in a restaurant row, by being together and consulting with each other, we can all help each other do better for the sellers.
Do we compete? Yes, but none of them should be handling intellectual property rights issues, not Cynthia, not the other Amazon consultants, you need a lawyer who is admitted to a federal court, okay. No one without being admitted to the bar should be dealing with intellectual property rights. Across the board, no one should be practicing law without a license. When it comes to other issues, you know, she is a smart person but I do think that my team brings something extra to the table.
DAVID ALADDIN: It reminds me, you know, did you watch the debate with Trump and Hilary?
CJ ROSENBAUM: I missed the first two, I saw the last one.
DAVID ALADDIN: I think the last one, they were like say something nice, you know, about Hilary … but anyways.
CJ ROSENBAUM: We hung out … before the Midwest E-Com, you know, all speakers got there the night before and we are sitting around this table and I forgot the name of the card game but you get a card and you read it, a lot of it has profanity in it, the destruction of humankind or something like that and we had a lot of laughs together.
Listen, I think that … I used to regularly speak with somebody other than their consultants and we bounce things back and forth and they would actually … they refer their intellectual property right cases to me because they can’t handle them. I think if that continued, we would all elevate, you know, each other and toss ideas back and forth. That is the way it is done, when it comes to like the top lawyers in the country, a lot of our associations and we meet twice a year, we compare notes, right.
We don’t hide information, we compare notes and say “okay how did you handle this situation, how did you handle that”, what is a better way of convincing people to see things our clients way, it makes everybody do better. Some of the others aren’t really open to this but maybe in the future they will be but if I had to say a good thing about her, I think she was a pioneer, her book is pretty good and I just think we bring a little more to the table.
DAVID ALADDIN: And I also mentioned … it is surprising because competition is like … we all have competition, we hate having competitors but like it gets us to perform a lot to our highest regard. We build everything a lot more premium, we have more attention to detail and we actually try to just do better for our customers as well and I can see you have elevated the playing field just because you want to make sure that you are giving the best service possible.
CJ ROSENBAUM: As far as I am aware, okay, as far as I am aware so I can’t say it is a fact but as far as I am aware, we are the only people addressing Amazon suspensions on any volume where all the work is done here in the US, nothing is offshore to the Philippines, everything is done here; everything that leaves my office is read by either me or another attorney before it goes out either to the seller to submit or either to the complainant in an IP case.
But none of your businesses are being based upon someone writing something in the Philippines, everything is written here which means it costs me a lot more, lawyers make a lot more, you know, than offshoring things to the Philippines which is my understanding a lot of the other – my competitors are doing that but I think that makes us better because you are dealing with an American company where even with the people in India and Ireland and Costa Rica are being trained by Americans.
I think if you are going to rely upon your businesses’ lifeblood, your reinstatement, we want it written by people here; it is nothing against the people in the Philippines, they are good people, they are educated people, they work really hard but I think when you are dealing with amazon.com or amazon.co.uk, most business owners do not want their plans of actions written in the Philippines.
DAVID ALADDIN: Actually, I mentioned that briefly … I was like … I don’t know if I would trust someone in the Philippines to write my appeal that would get my account that makes, you know, my livelihood …
CJ ROSENBAUM: Most people don’t know that … most people don’t know that other consultants are sending their stuff to the Philippines for the writing or for the data, people to gather the data. And again, a lot of people do fantastic work but I think you need to deliver to your clients or your customers what you say you do, you know. You hire us, it is getting written right here; right here, it is being read by either me or another attorney who works for me.
DAVID ALADDIN: Well CJ, it was awesome to have you on the show. I am going to include this link to the website amazonsellerslawyer.com in the show notes, as well as his email. Definitely appreciate all the gold nuggets that you shared today and also some personal details that you gave to us so it was definitely a nice insight to see into your world.
CJ ROSENBAUM: I definitely want you calling me; as you also lose your hair, we all grow older …
DAVID ALADDIN: David Aladdin, CJ Rosenbaum out.
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