Tuesday, September 14, 2010

eBay's Advertising of Tiffany Jewelry Not Proven Misleading

This posting was written by William Zale, Editor of CCH Advertising Law Guide.

The famous jeweler Tiffany failed to establish that online marketplace eBay engaged in misleading advertising under the Lanham Act in connection with the sale of counterfeit “Tiffany” jewelry on its site, the federal district court in New York City has ruled.

eBay advertised the sale of Tiffany goods on its website in various ways. Among other things, eBay provided hyperlinks to “Tiffany,” “Tiffany & Co. under $150,” “Tiffany & Co.,” “Tiffany Rings,” and “Tiffany & Co. under $50.” eBay also purchased advertising space on search engines, in some instances providing a link to eBay's site and exhorting the reader to “Find tiffany items at low prices.”

Prior Decisions

Following trial in 2008, the court rejected Tiffany’s false advertising claims (CCH Advertising Law Guide ¶63,019). The court found that eBay’s advertising was not literally false and or likely to mislead consumers because authentic items were offered for sale, and inauthentic items were only listed on eBay due to the illicit acts of third parties.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City agreed that eBay’s ads were not literally false but ordered the trial court to take a fresh look at whether eBay’s advertising was likely to mislead or confuse consumers, in light of evidence that eBay knew that “Tiffany” products advertised and sold on eBay often were counterfeit (CCH Advertising Law Guide ¶63,792).

Likelihood of Confusion

On remand, the trial court noted that Tiffany had not produced extrinsic evidence of deception such as a consumer survey typically required to prove that a substantial portion of consumers in fact were misled by advertising.

Instead, Tiffany relied on (1) declarations of three eBay customers who believed that they bought counterfeit Tiffany goods on eBay, (2) testimony from a Tiffany employee that Tiffany had received numerous emails complaining of counterfeit Tiffany goods on eBay, and (3) 125 emails sent by customers to eBay complaining of counterfeit Tiffany goods.

Because none of the complaining customers referred to any eBay advertisements, the court held that no extrinsic evidence indicated that the ads were misleading or confusing.

Intent to Deceive

An exception to the extrinsic evidence rule exists, according to the court. When an advertiser has intentionally set out to deceive the public, and the conduct is of an egregious nature, a presumption arises that consumers are, in fact, being deceived.

Tiffany contended that eBay’s intent to deceive was proven at trial by the fact that eBay continued advertising the availability of Tiffany products on its website after it had been notified that a sizable portion of the products were counterfeit. The court held that Tiffany waived this argument by failing to raise it before, during, or after trial, or on appeal.

eBay’s conduct could not be found egregious because there was no proof that eBay was aware those consumers were being misled by its advertisements, the court concluded. In addition, eBay took substantial steps to prevent and detect the sale of counterfeit goods on its website.

The opinion in Tiffany (NJ) Inc. v. eBay, Inc., filed September 13, 2010, will be reported at CCH Advertising Law Guide ¶63,967.

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