Tag Archives: Auctions

eBay, VeRO and the Scientologists

Originally posted 2008-12-10 23:26:21. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Last February Scott Pilutik, an aggressively anti-religion blogger and lawyer, posted this excellent piece about the abuse by the Scientology cult of eBay’s VeRO program, which eBay waves around to show what it’s doing to combat counterfeiting on the Internet (though of course the courts have mainly relieved it of having to do much of anything).  The “church” uses VeRO to prevent ex-members from selling a piece of mechanical garbage called an e-meter to either novitiates, souvenir hunters or whoever else would want to buy them on eBay.

Like tanning goop manufacturers Australian Gold and Designer Skin, Scientology wants to control distribution of its merchandise; like those companies as well, it is mostly selling packaging and marketing, not value, so control over distribution is key to the business model.  Market prices are bad for business when you’re selling something that’s not “really” worth all that much.  Businesses such as these therefore use fallacious claims sounding in intellectual property infringement as proxies for price-inflating market forces that don’t exist.  All too often, the regimes that purport to enforce those laws, be they judges or private companies such as eBay, are all too willing to help outfits such as these abuse them.

Let’s pick up the action here: Read More…

Best of 2010: Forget breakfast — eBay eats Tiffany’s lunch

Originally posted 2010-12-23 08:00:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Tiffany's NYC The Second Circuit, unsurprisingly according to most commentators, has affirmed the decision of the Southern District of New York refusing to find eBay liable for contributory trademark infrintgement in the Tiffany v. eBay case.  I have been following the case since before it was filed (yeah, bitter as usual!) and have written bunches of posts on it — see, look?

In terms of the Second Circuit opinion itself, you can find that here.  If at some point I have something really original to say about it–after all the blogging is done by everyone else–you’ll be the first to know.  But here’s a little roundup of “takes.” First, the WSJ Law Blog on the thrust of the story:

So long as eBay takes steps to remove listings it knows are bogus — and isn’t otherwise willfully blind to fraudulent sales — it can avoid liability, the court ruled.  Judge Robert Sack, writing for the three-judge panel, seemed to hang his hat on the “market”:

We are disposed to think, and the record suggests, that private market forces give eBay and those operating similar businesses a strong incentive to minimize the counterfeit goods sold on their Web sites . . .

EBay received many complaints from users claiming to have been duped into buying counterfeit Tiffany products sold on eBay. The risk of alienating these users gives eBay a reason to identify and remove counterfeit listings. Indeed, it has spent millions of dollars in that effort. . . .

Tiffany had argued that eBay knew it had a problem with counterfeit items being listed on its Web site and did little to clean it up. EBay insisted the obligation rested with the New York jeweler to identify and alert it to auctions of counterfeit Tiffany silver jewelry.

But that’s not the whole story, exactly, though it mostly is.  As Law.com’s Corporate Counsel explains:

The court sent the case back to the district level for more discussion of whether eBay may be guilty of false advertising because it promotes the presence of “Tiffany” products on its site in both direct advertisements and paid ads that pop up when users search for Tiffany on Google and other search engines.

Those ads could be deemed false, because eBay is aware that “a significant portion” of goods advertised as Tiffany items on eBay are actually counterfeit, the court said. (The exact percentage of counterfeit Tiffany items among all those advertised is in dispute). EBay has pointed out that its site contains a special “About Me” page for Tiffany (and controlled by Tiffany) in which users are told that any Tiffany item advertised for sale on eBay is likely to be a fake.

To win a false advertising claim, Tiffany will have to produce evidence that consumers were confused by the advertisements, the court said. So far, Tiffany has not produced that sort of evidence, which usually comes in the form of consumer surveys.

Usually?  Well, usually if anyone’s actually watching, I guess.  Anyway, some more–here’s a great article by a partner at Pattishall McAuliffe (the law firm that bears the name of my late trademark law prof)  named Uli Widmaier that gets to the heart of the matter (I’ve removed the citations for bloggy reading and added a link or two):

In other words, for a defendant to be liable for contributory trademark infringement, the defendant must have knowledge of specific individuals engaged in infringing activities. General knowledge that infringing activity might take place is not enough. This is an application of the “narrow standard” of contributory liability articulated in Inwood Laboratories, Inc. v. Ives Laboratories, Inc. eBay argued in the district court that this standard did not apply, but accepted the Inwood standard for purposes of the appeal.  Thus, the Court “assume[d] without deciding that Inwood’s test for contributory trademark infringement governs.

Tiffany had also argued that eBay was “willfully blind” as to the sale of counterfeit Tiffany goods on eBay’s website. The Court stated that, as a general matter, “[a] service provider is not, we think, permitted willful blindness. When it has reason to suspect that users of its service are infringing a protected mark, it may not shield itself from learning of the particular infringing transactions by looking the other way.” However, the Court declined to impose liability for contributory trademark infringement on this ground because “eBay did not ignore the information it was given about counterfeit sales on its website.”

In sum, the Second Circuit affirmed that a service provider is not permitted to be willfully blind to alleged trademark infringement. But eBay’s removal of listings identified as counterfeit by Tiffany, as well as eBay’s affirmative steps to police its website for counterfeiters were enough to render eBay not willfully blind. Had eBay done less, it might have been found liable. Unfortunately, the decision gives very little guidance as to the dividing line between “willful blindness” and sufficient vigilance.

Great point.  There’s something about trademark law that, for some reasons, makes judges want to make lawyers and businesses guess about liability until it’s too late.  As usual, Eric Goldman gets that, too: Read More…

Home cookin’ a la mode, with a most undeserving dessert

Originally posted 2008-07-01 02:15:56. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

From the WSJ Law Blog:

A French court today cracked down on counterfeits — and an outlet that sells them — ordering eBay to pay Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands — Kenzo, Guerlain, Dior and Givenchy — $63.1 million in damages for auctioning fake goods. Here’s the early story from WSJ. . . .

“I was really surprised by the number,” J. Michael Huget, the head of IP at Butzel Long, told the Law Blog. “There’s definitely a hometown flavor to it. I don’t know how you get there on a disgorgement of profit basis, unless there’s some unique penalty provision that exists under French law. But even with that, it’s not like it’s a company that’s gone over there and hurt people. You don’t want to discount the value of a brand, but that’d be a huge number even in our system.”

Well, unless there’s some, like, Frenchie legal reason for it, yeah? I’d run that down. Genuine expertise demonstrated by Butzel Long, and crack reporting there by the WSJ! I blame the reporter more than I do Michael Huget. Wouldn’t want to have to dial another number and risk finding out that law part.

On the other hand… “it’s not like it’s a company that’s gone over there and hurt people”? Oh, is that the test, then, given what we… know? … about French law? Remember, Michael, what our teeny dollars look like to Europeans!

Oh, all right. It does sound like a huge number. Yet on the other hand — hometown-wise, frankly I couldn’t blame the French (yes, I did just write that) for getting the impression that there’s only one way to get eBay’s attention?

Having said all that — this is actually really troubling:

As for perfumer-plaintiffs Kenzo, Guerlain, Dior and Givenchy, the judge ruled that, even though the perfumes sold by eBay were legitimate, the company was liable for unauthorized sales. LVMH strictly limits their distribution to authorized dealers such as perfume chains and department stores.

Oh no. No!!!!!!  Now what do I do?!

(Jaunty beret-tip to Marty.)

Forget breakfast — eBay eats Tiffany’s lunch

Tiffany's NYC The Second Circuit, unsurprisingly according to most commentators, has affirmed the decision of the Southern District of New York refusing to find eBay liable for contributory trademark infrintgement in the Tiffany v. eBay case.  I have been following the case since before it was filed (yeah, bitter as usual!) and have written bunches of posts on it — see, look?

In terms of the Second Circuit opinion itself, you can find that here.  If at some point I have something really original to say about it–after all the blogging is done by everyone else–you’ll be the first to know. But here’s a little roundup of “takes.” First, the WSJ Law Blog on the thrust of the story:

So long as eBay takes steps to remove listings it knows are bogus — and isn’t otherwise willfully blind to fraudulent sales — it can avoid liability, the court ruled.  Judge Robert Sack, writing for the three-judge panel, seemed to hang his hat on the “market”:

We are disposed to think, and the record suggests, that private market forces give eBay and those operating similar businesses a strong incentive to minimize the counterfeit goods sold on their Web sites . . .

EBay received many complaints from users claiming to have been duped into buying counterfeit Tiffany products sold on eBay. The risk of alienating these users gives eBay a reason to identify and remove counterfeit listings. Indeed, it has spent millions of dollars in that effort. . . .

Tiffany had argued that eBay knew it had a problem with counterfeit items being listed on its Web site and did little to clean it up. EBay insisted the obligation rested with the New York jeweler to identify and alert it to auctions of counterfeit Tiffany silver jewelry.

But that’s not the whole story, exactly, though it mostly is.  As Law.com’s Corporate Counsel explains:

The court sent the case back to the district level for more discussion of whether eBay may be guilty of false advertising because it promotes the presence of “Tiffany” products on its site in both direct advertisements and paid ads that pop up when users search for Tiffany on Google and other search engines.

Those ads could be deemed false, because eBay is aware that “a significant portion” of goods advertised as Tiffany items on eBay are actually counterfeit, the court said. (The exact percentage of counterfeit Tiffany items among all those advertised is in dispute). EBay has pointed out that its site contains a special “About Me” page for Tiffany (and controlled by Tiffany) in which users are told that any Tiffany item advertised for sale on eBay is likely to be a fake.

To win a false advertising claim, Tiffany will have to produce evidence that consumers were confused by the advertisements, the court said. So far, Tiffany has not produced that sort of evidence, which usually comes in the form of consumer surveys.

Usually?  Well, usually if anyone’s actually watching, I guess.  Anyway, some more–here’s a great article by a partner at Pattishall McAuliffe (the law firm that bears the name of my late trademark law prof)  named Uli Widmaier that gets to the heart of the matter (I’ve removed the citations for bloggy reading and added a link or two):

In other words, for a defendant to be liable for contributory trademark infringement, the defendant must have knowledge of specific individuals engaged in infringing activities. General knowledge that infringing activity might take place is not enough. This is an application of the “narrow standard” of contributory liability articulated in Inwood Laboratories, Inc. v. Ives Laboratories, Inc. eBay argued in the district court that this standard did not apply, but accepted the Inwood standard for purposes of the appeal.  Thus, the Court “assume[d] without deciding that Inwood’s test for contributory trademark infringement governs.

Tiffany had also argued that eBay was “willfully blind” as to the sale of counterfeit Tiffany goods on eBay’s website. The Court stated that, as a general matter, “[a] service provider is not, we think, permitted willful blindness. When it has reason to suspect that users of its service are infringing a protected mark, it may not shield itself from learning of the particular infringing transactions by looking the other way.” However, the Court declined to impose liability for contributory trademark infringement on this ground because “eBay did not ignore the information it was given about counterfeit sales on its website.”

In sum, the Second Circuit affirmed that a service provider is not permitted to be willfully blind to alleged trademark infringement. But eBay’s removal of listings identified as counterfeit by Tiffany, as well as eBay’s affirmative steps to police its website for counterfeiters were enough to render eBay not willfully blind. Had eBay done less, it might have been found liable. Unfortunately, the decision gives very little guidance as to the dividing line between “willful blindness” and sufficient vigilance.

Great point.  There’s something about trademark law that, for some reasons, makes judges want to make lawyers and businesses guess about liability until it’s too late.  As usual, Eric Goldman gets that, too: Read More…