In a ruling that some will see as a victory for online consumers but others view as a "counterfeiters' charter" a judge has ruled that auction sites such as eBay have no obligation to ensure that the designer goods being sold on their pages are genuine.
In 2004, the exclusive New York jewellers Tiffany, which is fiercely protective of its brand, launched an investigation into the sale of its goods online. Officials trawled eBay and bought 200 items purporting to be genuine Tiffany pieces, only to find that three-quarters of the items were fakes.
The online retail pioneer knows perfectly well that its website has become an emporium for knock-off goods but has failed to take adequate action, Tiffany alleged in a lawsuit, which finally went to trial last November. eBay countered that it cannot be expected to vouch for every sale on the site, an argument that was upheld by a judge in New York yesterday.
In a statement, Tiffany said that it was "shocked and deeply disappointed" and was likely to appeal the ruling.