eBay fined $2.5 million in French perfume case

Company criticizes $2.5 million fine levied against it by a French court for failing to stop sales of LVMH perfumes. Court says eBay violated a 2008 order to remove all such listings.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

eBay is criticizing a French court's ruling that orders the company to pay a $2.55 million fine to European conglomerate LVMH.

The auction giant and its European unit were fined 1.7 million euros on Monday by the Commercial Court of Paris, which ruled that the company violated a 2008 court order by not preventing the sale of legitimate LVMH perfumes and cosmetics. LVMH's brands include Christian Dior, Guerlain, and Givenchy perfumes.

In June 2008, the Commercial Court fined eBay $61 million in a lawsuit filed by the conglomerate, which is officially known as LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. LVMH had asserted that eBay had not done enough to stamp out the sale of fake LVMH goods on its site. The court went a step further, ruling that eBay-traded LVMH products--even authentic ones--were not being sold by an authorized reseller. As a result, eBay was ordered to remove all listings of these products.

eBay criticized the ruling then, saying it was an attempt by LVMH to "protect uncompetitive commercial practices." eBay likewise condemned the new ruling.

"Today's outcome hurts consumers by preventing them from buying and selling authentic items online," Alex von Schirmeister, general manager of eBay in France, said in a statement. "The injunction is an abuse of 'selective distribution.' It effectively enforces restrictive distribution contracts, which is anti-competitive."

Despite its objections, eBay argued that it has complied with the 2008 court order. The company said it has used state-of-the-art filtering software to check millions of listings each day, making thousands of authentic LVMH products invisible or inaccessible to French eBay users.

eBay also discounted the proof brought against it, claiming that LVMH offered details on only 1,341 listings out of 200 million posted on the auction site each day. eBay believes those listings were deliberately posted by people to sneak past the filters. In 1,091 of the listings targeted by LVMH, the seller did not accurately describe the item, using misspelled brand names, no brand names at all, or only pictures to describe the product.

As a result, eBay asserts that both the fine and ruling are unjustified. The fine itself is disproportionate given that eBay complied with the injunction," said von Schirmeister. "It is out of step with our legal victories in France, U.K., Germany, Belgium and the U.S."

eBay plans to appeal the new ruling and two other cases tied to LVMH. "We believe that the higher courts will overturn this ruling and ensure that e-commerce companies such as eBay will continue to provide a platform for buyers and sellers to trade authentic goods," said von Schirmeister.

eBay has been in and out of U.S. and European courtrooms for years, sued by companies trying to clamp down on the sale of fake versions of their legitimate products. It's faced courtroom battles with several European powerhouses, winning cases against L'Oreal and Tiffany, but losing suits filed by LVMH.