Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2010 Issue

Ebay's Victory in Fraud Case Offers an Example to Booksellers and Google

Tiffanyaboutme

The Tiffany warning page, about as easy to find on eBay as a needle in a haystack.


By Michael Stillman

A case pitting online auction giant eBay against luxury jeweler Tiffany's in the Second Circuit U.S. Appeals Court has all kinds of implications for sellers and buyers in the book field. The victory for eBay, which facilitates trade, but also facilitates fraud, is one about which booksellers and collectors may want to be aware. If I were a bookseller, I think I would want to post a copy of this decision in a spot visible to every potential customer who walked through the door.

This decision, though it does not apply directly, might also have implications for the Google Books case, currently being fought in another courtroom. We will get to this later.

Several years ago, Tiffany's, unsatisfied with eBay's efforts to stop the sale of fake Tiffany merchandise on their website, sued the auctioneer for trademark infringement. While exact figures are uncertain, there seems little doubt that a substantial amount of fake "Tiffany" jewelry is promoted and sold on eBay. If this shocks you, you are either incredibly naïve or have been living on another planet. However, the question was not whether eBay was selling fake "Tiffany" jewelry, nor even whether eBay was aware that they were selling fake "Tiffany" jewelry. Quoting the trial court, the Appeals Court stated, "a significant portion of the 'Tiffany' sterling silver jewelry listed on the eBay website...was counterfeit." The question, then, was whether eBay was obligated to do more than it was already to prevent the selling of fraudulent or misrepresented material on its site. The court said it was not.

Ebay argued that it had made all reasonable attempts to stop fraudulent merchandise from being sold. It had both automated programs and live representatives look at "Tiffany" listings for signs of fraud. It encouraged Tiffany to scour its listings and inform them of items it believed were misrepresented. It permitted Tiffany to post an "About Me" page on the eBay website where the jeweler stated, "Most of the purported TIFFANY & CO. silver jewelry and packaging available on eBay is counterfeit." Ebay provided warnings to sellers when they listed merchandise with the "Tiffany" name to be sure it was authentic, that eBay "does not tolerate listing of replica, counterfeit, or otherwise unauthorized items," and violation of this could result in suspension of the seller's account. Ebay does not automatically suspend a seller for listing his first fake "Tiffany" item, but employs something of a "three strikes rule" if the seller appears to be legitimate, most likely unaware that the item was counterfeit. In that case, a warning would be given first, but if it appeared that the seller was simply in the business of selling counterfeits, he would be removed immediately. Ebay suspends "hundred of thousands" of sellers every year, "tens of thousands" for suspected trademark infringement.

Without delving into the intricacies of case law the Court had to consider, the issue essentially came down to whether eBay was required to prevent all listings of counterfeit goods based on a "generalized" knowledge that misrepresentations were being made, rather than knowledge of specific cases. The Court came down on the side of specific requirements only. In other words, eBay is required to act when it has knowledge that a specific item is fraudulent, but not when it has reason to suspect that there are some unidentified fraudulent listings on its site. In order to show contributory trademark infringement, the Court said, "a service provider must have more than a general knowledge or reason to know that its service is being used to sell counterfeit goods. Some contemporary knowledge of which particular listings are infringing or will infringe in the future is necessary."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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