(The author of the following blog, Matt Colvin, is a member of AFTA’s Leadership/Advisory Committee for its Internet Sellers and recently accompanied AFTA Board Members to Washington, D.C. to discuss IPR and eCommerce issues.  Matt is a Disabled Veteran who is now able to stay home as the sole provider for his family thanks to eCommerce.  He is passionate about protecting the ability of others to grow their own business and can be reached directly at mattcolvin+afta@gmail.com ) 

We started the day by going to a “Meet and greet” event held by TN Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. From there went to a private meeting with counsel and staff of the House Judiciary Committee, with whom AFTA has worked for many years on related IPR and trade issues.

The next meeting was with Senior Staff Members from Congressman Kevin Brady’s Office, including his communications Director who is an old friend of mine. Congressman Brady chairs the House Ways & Means Committee and the meeting provided us with an opportunity to join the IPR and eCommerce issues of import to AFTA Internet Sellers with the IPR and Trade issues about which AFTA has been heavily involved for many years.

From there we moved on to a meeting with Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s office, where additional resources were suggested for us to follow up on. Staffers also suggested that we reach out to the Government Accountability Office to provide inputs on an updated version of a recent E-commerce report that did not appear to sufficiently present the unique challenges of independent Internet Sellers of genuine branded merchandise such as those represented by the American Free Trade Association.

At this point, we left Capitol Hill and headed to a meeting with Customs & Border Protection (CBP) who is in the midst of a big push to try and regulate ecommerce – primarily trying to keep counterfeit items from coming into the US in small packages shipped directly to the consumer.   We were able to give CBP some insight into how a typical Amazon seller operates. This meeting showed us that the challenges of eCommerce are much larger than merely those of immediate concern to AFTA Internet Sellers and that if we are to be considered as critical stakeholders as regulations, laws and policies develop down the road, we must remain aware of all of the many e-Commerce/IPR related challenges the government faces on a day-to-day basis, not just the ones that are of immediate concern to us.

Our final meeting of the day was, in my opinion, perhaps the most worthwhile and productive.  AFTA had the privilege of meeting with the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Courts, IPR and the Internet for well over an hour, discussing our concerns about “bully brands” who are abusing Copyright/Intellectual Property laws to restrict the ability of eCommerce sellers like ourselves to provide legitimate products to the consumer. The Congressman and his staff were clearly interested in what we had to say and they were also interested in the tax-related issues similarly of concern to small internet vendors.  The Congressman and his staff spent much more time with us than had originally been designated and we all enjoyed a very thoughtful and productive discussion. This is an important relationship and we look forward to continued engagement with this Congressman and his office as AFTA further develops concrete strategies going forward and schedules our next trip to DC in the very near future.

Several of the people that we spoke with on this trip asked us “So, there is a problem – what are you wanting us to do about it?” and we let them know that our goal of this trip was to introduce the AFTA Internet Sellers to Capitol Hill and to set the stage for our next trips.   The fact that we were in DC as AFTA’s newest members clearly made an impression on Capitol Hill because it meant we were serious and ready to do some business.  It was clear to me that even though AFTA Internet Seller membership to date has not been overwhelming, AFTA believes in us and our issues and worked hard on our behalf to make this trip happen and our meetings productive.

We are planning on multiple AFTA trips to Capitol hill over the next few months and we want YOU to come with us on the next trip.  Please join AFTA (https://aftaus.com/supportafta/) with a minimum contribution of $250 to help us fund the fight against these “Bully Brands”.   Please also reach out to me or any one on AFTA’s Board to share YOUR thoughts on the matter – if AFTA pursues a legislative solution what form would you like it to take?