Even as Jewellery house Tiffany and Co. filed an appeal against a ruling by a federal district court that absolved online auction company eBay of legal responsibility to keep its users from selling counterfeit items, EBay won another legal battle across the Atlantic with trademark owners.
The AFP wire service reported that a court in Belgium has ruled that eBay was not required to police its site to prevent sales of counterfeit goods. The ruling came on a lawsuit by cosmetics maker L'Oreal, which has claims pending against eBay in four European countries.
However, a Paris court had held in June that eBay was liable for selling counterfeit Louis Vuitton goods and other luxury items, a decision that EBay is now appealing.
Tiffany says that eBay stands liable for the sale of counterfeit goods on its website since it does not take any initiative to block suspect sales, such as large discounts on multiple "Tiffany" items.
For its part, EBay counters that its duty is limited to blocking auctions that Tiffany pointed out. The US court agreed with eBay, opining that the burden for enforcement was on trademark owner, and not on middlemen, which is the role played by eBay. The ruling allows companies to rely on the holders of intellectual property to monitor sites, and in return the sites would have to shut down offending material when notified.
Tiffany's suit was filed in 2004, after it found that most items sold on eBay under its banner were counterfeit. Lawyers say that the ruling by the US court effectively allows eBay to profit at the expense of consumers and trademark holders. EBay says that the core problem is counterfeiting, which the litigation does not address, and the best way to stop that is an ongoing collaboration between companies, government agencies and law enforcement.
Copyright and trademark owners have been insisting that lawmakers and courts should do more to force intermediaries play a more active role in stopping infringement, a development that could stunt technologies which would benefit both rights holders and consumers in the long run.