Tiffany & Co. vs. Ebay Inc., an online auction victory

The long-running litigation between Tiffany & Co. and eBay, in which Tiffany sought to hold eBay liable for counterfeit Tiffany goods sold on eBay’s internet auction, has ended.

Tiffany’s false advertising claim was rejected last week. This was Tiffany’s the last remaining claim of a series of trademark infringement cases against the online auctioneer. Tiffany first filed suit against eBay, alleging direct and contributory trademark infringement, false advertising and trademark dilution, the whole shebang. (In 2008, the District Court of New York ruled against Tiffany and placed the burden to proof the individual infringers on Tiffany rather than placing the burden on the platform where the infringers sell their counterfeit goods. Tiffany appealed and lost this April.)

Tiffany now accused eBay of advertising the sale of its goods through ads on its website, and through sponsored links on search engines, which would sometimes link to its own website and recommend visitors to “Find Tiffany items at [too] low prices”.

The judge agreed with Tiffany that eBay knew some of the goods being sold were fake. But he said that Tiffany failed to show that eBay’s advertisements actually misled customers or necessarily implied that all Tiffany products sold on its website were genuine. In addition, the judge thinks eBay takes substantial steps to prevent and detect the sale of counterfeit goods on its website. eBay says this costs up to $20 million a year.

Internet companies such as eBay, Google and other hosts must be thrilled they cannot be held responsible for users’ trademark and copyright violations.

Ebay sells millions of goods every second. Be careful in the streets of Gotham; not everything that says so, is Tiffany & Co.!

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