576 F.Supp.2d 463 (S.D.N.Y. 2008), 04 Civ. 4607, Tiffany (NJ) Inc. v. eBay, Inc.

Docket Nº:04 Civ. 4607(RJS).
Citation:576 F.Supp.2d 463
Party Name:TIFFANY (NJ) INC. and Tiffany and Company, Plaintiffs, v. EBAY, INC., Defendant.
Case Date:July 14, 2008
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, Southern District of New York
 
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576 F.Supp.2d 463 (S.D.N.Y. 2008)

TIFFANY (NJ) INC. and Tiffany and Company, Plaintiffs,

v.

EBAY, INC., Defendant.

No. 04 Civ. 4607(RJS).

United States District Court, S.D. New York.

July 14, 2008

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H. Peter Haveles, Jr., Esq. and James B. Swire, Esq. (Eleanor M. Lackman,

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Esq., and Erik C. Walsh, Esq., on the briefs), Arnold & Porter LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs Tiffany (NJ) Inc. and Tiffany and Company.

Bruce S. Meyer, Esq., Robert Bruce Rich, Esq., and Randi W. Singer, Esq. (Mark J. Fiore, Esq., and Lori M. Schiffer, Esq., on the briefs), Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, New York, NY, for Defendant eBay, Inc.

OPINION AFTER BENCH TRIAL

RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, District Judge.

Tiffany, the famous jeweler with the coveted blue boxes, brings this action against eBay, the prominent online marketplace, for the sale of counterfeit Tiffany silver jewelry on its website. Specifically, Tiffany alleges that hundreds of thousands of counterfeit silver jewelry items were offered for sale on eBay's website from 2003 to 2006. Tiffany seeks to hold eBay liable for direct and contributory trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, and direct and contributory trademark dilution, on the grounds that eBay facilitated and allowed these counterfeit items to be sold on its website.

Tiffany acknowledges that individual sellers, rather than eBay, are responsible for listing and selling counterfeit Tiffany items. Nevertheless, Tiffany argues that eBay was on notice that a problem existed and accordingly, that eBay had the obligation to investigate and control the illegal activities of these sellers-specifically, by preemptively refusing to post any listing offering five or more Tiffany items and by immediately suspending sellers upon learning of Tiffany's belief that the seller had engaged in potentially infringing activity. In response, eBay contends that it is Tiffany's burden, not eBay's, to monitor the eBay website for counterfeits and to bring counterfeits to eBay's attention. eBay claims that in practice, when potentially infringing listings were reported to eBay, eBay immediately removed the offending listings. It is clear that Tiffany and eBay alike have an interest in eliminating counterfeit Tiffany merchandise from eBay-Tiffany to protect its famous brand name, and eBay to preserve the reputation of its website as a safe place to do business. Accordingly, the heart of this dispute is not whether counterfeit Tiffany jewelry should flourish on eBay, but rather, who should bear the burden of policing Tiffany's valuable trademarks in Internet commerce.

Having held a bench trial in this action, the Court issues the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, as required by Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Specifically, after carefully considering the evidence introduced at trial, the arguments of counsel, and the law pertaining to this matter, the Court concludes that Tiffany has failed to carry its burden with respect to each claim alleged in the complaint. First, the Court finds that eBay's use of Tiffany's trademarks in its advertising, on its homepage, and in sponsored links purchased through Yahoo! and Google, is a protected, nominative fair use of the marks.

Second, the Court finds that eBay is not liable for contributory trademark infringement. In determining whether eBay is liable, the standard is not whether eBay could reasonably anticipate possible infringement, but rather whether eBay continued to supply its services to sellers when it knew or had reason to know of infringement by those sellers. See Inwood Labs., Inc. v. Ives Labs., Inc., 456 U.S. 844, 854, 102 S.Ct. 2182, 72 L.Ed.2d 606 (1982). Indeed, the Supreme Court has specifically disavowed the reasonable anticipation standard as a “ watered down" and incorrect standard. Id. at 854 n. 13, 102 S.Ct. 2182. Here, when Tiffany put eBay on

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notice of specific items that Tiffany believed to be infringing, eBay immediately removed those listings. eBay refused, however, to monitor its website and preemptively remove listings of Tiffany jewelry before the listings became public. The law does not impose liability for contributory trademark infringement on eBay for its refusal to take such preemptive steps in light of eBay's “ reasonable anticipation" or generalized knowledge that counterfeit goods might be sold on its website. Quite simply, the law demands more specific knowledge as to which items are infringing and which seller is listing those items before requiring eBay to take action.

The result of the application of this legal standard is that Tiffany must ultimately bear the burden of protecting its trademark. Policymakers may yet decide that the law as it stands is inadequate to protect rights owners in light of the increasing scope of Internet commerce and the concomitant rise in potential trademark infringement. Nevertheless, under the law as it currently stands, it does not matter whether eBay or Tiffany could more efficiently bear the burden of policing the eBay website for Tiffany counterfeits-an open question left unresolved by this trial. Instead, the issue is whether eBay continued to provide its website to sellers when eBay knew or had reason to know that those sellers were using the website to traffic in counterfeit Tiffany jewelry. The Court finds that when eBay possessed the requisite knowledge, it took appropriate steps to remove listings and suspend service. Under these circumstances, the Court declines to impose liability for contributory trademark infringement.

Third, the Court finds that Tiffany has failed to meet its burden in proving its claims for unfair competition. Fourth, in regard to Tiffany's claim for false advertising, the Court concludes that eBay's use of the Tiffany trademarks in advertising is a protected, nominative fair use of the marks. Finally, the Court finds that Tiffany has failed to prove that eBay's use of the TIFFANY Marks is likely to cause dilution. Even assuming arguendo that Tiffany could be said to have made out a claim for trademark dilution, the Court finds that eBay's use of the marks is protected by the statutory defense of nominative fair use.

Accordingly, the Court hereby enters judgment for eBay. The Court's judgment is supported by the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiffs Tiffany (NJ) Inc. and Tiffany and Company 1 commenced this action on June 18, 2004.2 The Amended Complaint, filed on July 15, 2004, alleges that defendant eBay, Inc. (“ eBay" ) is liable, inter alia, for direct and contributory infringement of Tiffany's trademarks by virtue of the assistance that it provides to, and the profits it derives from, individuals who sell counterfeit Tiffany goods on eBay. Specifically, Tiffany's Amended Complaint asserts the following six causes of action: (1) direct and contributory trademark infringement of Tiffany's trademarks in violation of Sections 32(1), 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1), and 34(d), 15 U.S.C. § 1116(d), of the Lanham Act; (2) trademark infringement and the use of false descriptions and representations in violation of Sections 43(a)(1)(A) and (B) of the Lanham

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Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(A) and (B); (3) direct and contributory trademark infringement under common law; (4) direct and contributory unfair competition under common law; (5) trademark dilution in violation of Section 43(c) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c); and (6) trademark dilution in violation of New York General Business Law § 360- l .

In anticipation of trial, the parties filed a Joint Pretrial Order (“ PTO" ) on October 6, 2006, including those facts to which both parties stipulated. In April 2007, the parties filed Proposed Findings of Fact and Law (“ Pr.Findings" ) as well as Pretrial Memoranda (“ Pretrial Mem." ).3

The case proceeded to trial on November 13, 2007. The trial was conducted without objection in accordance with the Court's Individual Rules for the conduct of non-jury proceedings. The parties submitted affidavits containing the direct testimony of their respective witnesses, as well as copies of all the exhibits and deposition testimony that they intended to offer as evidence in chief at trial. eBay chose to cross-examine only four of Tiffany's seventeen witnesses,4 noting in opening arguments that the facts of the case were not complicated-and indeed, that many were not in dispute. (Trial Transcript (“ Tr." ) 28:18-29:7.) Tiffany cross-examined all three of eBay's witnesses. Closing arguments took place on November 20, 2007. The parties each submitted a post-trial memorandum (“ Post-Trial Mem." ) on December 7, 2007.

By letter dated July 3, 2008, Tiffany requested that the Court recognize a decision issued on June 30, 2008, by the Commercial Court of Paris, France, and give preclusive effect to factual determinations made therein. A conference regarding this request was held with the Court on July 8, 2008. Tiffany subsequently withdrew the request by letter dated July 9, 2008.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT5

A. The Parties

Plaintiff Tiffany and Company is a New York corporation with its principal place of business in New York, New York. (PTO at 7.) Plaintiff Tiffany (NJ) Inc. is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in Parsippany, New Jersey. ( Id. ) Defendant eBay, Inc. is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in San Jose, California. ( Id. )

B. Tiffany and Its Business

1. Tiffany's Famous Marks

Over its 170-year history, Tiffany has...

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