WASHINGTON — E-commerce companies including Amazon are rallying around bipartisan legislation aimed at cracking down on counterfeits sold online, marking a shift in negotiations after months of sparring between lawmakers and the tech industry over attempts to regulate the issue.

But the platforms are notably endorsing a more modest proposal while resisting efforts seen as more threatening that could open them up to greater legal liability or make complying with new rules more challenging.

Amazon, Etsy and eBay in recent weeks have all come out in favor of the House version of the Inform Consumers Act, legislation that would require digital marketplaces to verify details about third-party vendors they work with and disclose some of this information to consumers. (Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

Unspoken in those announcements is the fact that the companies have not endorsed the Senate version of the bill, which would require platforms to verify information about a larger pool of vendors — thus making it more difficult for companies to comply with the measure. The original Senate version also did not expressly preempt state laws, which the industry has pushed for.

Several of the companies, meanwhile, are pushing back against a separate bill known as the Shop Safe Act that could open digital marketplaces up to lawsuits over the sale of counterfeit goods on their sites if they don’t meet a set of “best practices” to combat them. Companies have argued the proposal could have unintended consequences for e-commerce, while its backers have argued it is a crucial step to hold platforms accountable for counterfeit sales.

The debate is coming to a head after efforts to set new rules protecting consumers against counterfeit goods and services bought online languished for years.

The House Judiciary Committee recently advanced the Shop Safe Act, and lawmakers in the House and Senate held hearings in recent weeks discussing the Inform Consumers Act. The flurry of activity, coupled with the recent industry endorsements, could signal lawmakers may finally have enough momentum to get some legislation passed after past failed attempts.

Tech companies, including Amazon, have lobbied aggressively against past efforts targeting counterfeit goods, notably a June attempt to include the Inform Consumers Act in a major package aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness with China.

But e-commerce companies came around on the House version of the bill after lawmakers addressed concerns that the original bill’s more onerous requirements would hurt small businesses that might have a harder time complying with its mandates.

“We’re thankful for the progress that’s been made on the House version of the [Inform] Act and look forward to supporting its passage,” Amazon Vice President of Public Policy Brian Huseman wrote in a blog post last week, echoing similar remarks by Etsy and eBay.

But the months-long lobbying campaign targeting the bills hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who introduced the Senate version of the bill, on Tuesday rebuffed what he called efforts by Amazon to dilute the legislation further.

“They have said recently, quote, ‘We look forward to working with lawmakers to further strengthen the bill,’ ” said Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The proposals that they’ve made over the years do not strengthen the bill. They strengthen Amazon’s hand in avoiding the bill.” He added: “I for one am not going to stand by and watch this watered down any further. We need to move on this.”

Amazon declined to comment on the remarks. The company had praised the latest House version of the bill for including language to preempt state measures.

Durbin spokesman Joe LaPaille said the remarks were in reference to the latest House version of the bill, which “represents a careful compromise that has achieved broad consensus support and, as Senator Durbin said at the hearing, should not be watered down any further.”

Dane Snowden, CEO of the Internet Association, a tech trade group, said Tuesday that requiring e-commerce sites to verify information about even more vendors, as the original Senate version proposed, could disproportionately hurt small businesses.

“We are hoping that the barriers that ... initially were in these bills will be lessened by raising the threshold ... like the House bill has it right now,” Snowden said in an interview after testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

His group counts Amazon, Etsy and eBay as members.

Snowden also argued that the “current state of the Inform Act is a stronger bill” than the Shop Safe Act, which Etsy, eBay and Walmart have all voiced concern about.

Just because one of the proposals is gaining steam doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t look to pass both, however, or advance more legislation targeting the platforms.

“None of the proposed solutions is a silver bullet,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said at Tuesday’s hearing. “There needs to be a multifaceted approach to addressing the problem.”

And don’t expect lawmakers to stop jockeying for their bills.

Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., co-sponsor of the Senate version of the Shop Safe Act, said that “Shop Safe and Inform are both part of the solution” and that the bills “complement each other.” Jonathan Wilcox, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a Shop Safe Act co-sponsor, said that proposal “delivers a superior solution” to the Inform Consumers Act because the latter grants “unwarranted authority” to regulators “rather than empowering trademark holders and other victims of counterfeit sales.”

Recommended for you