Score one for the Web. A judge’s decision in favor of electronic commerce giant eBay on July 14 is being heralded as a victory for companies across the Internet that rely on advertising or the buying and selling of goods.
Luxury retailer Tiffany & Co. had sued eBay, accusing the site of not doing enough to thwart sales of counterfeit items. A loss would have hampered eBay’s ability to offer name-brand goods on its bargain shopping site, but it also could have shaped the outcome of other court cases pitting the owners of trademarks and copyrighted material against the Web sites that in the past decade and a half have become crucial distributors of that content.
The case is indicative of other lawsuits that are trying to put more onus on Internet companies to police their pages and ensure they’re not being used as a conduit for copyrighted content and pirated or counterfeit goods. If the Web companies shoulder too much of the burden, their ability to wring a profit from the sales or the advertising that appears alongside the commerce could be compromised.
The July 14 decision helped show the limitations of trademark protections and reaffirmed a long-held policy that sites are not responsible for illegal violations of rights’ holders trademarks or copyrights, providing they remove infringing material once notified. “The U.S. courts are aware of the increasing role these companies play in the U.S. economy, and they are not willing to shut them down,” says Stephen Kramarsky, a partner at New York commercial litigation firm Dewey, Pegno and Kramarsky.