A lawyer for Tiffany & Co. accused eBay Inc. on Tuesday of allowing the sale of tens of thousands of pieces of counterfeit Tiffany jewelry on its Web site; an eBay lawyer responded that Tiffany wasn’t doing its share to protect customers.
The arguments in U.S. District Court in Manhattan came at the start of a trial to decide whether eBay can be blamed for the sales of silver Tiffany knockoffs on its Internet site since 2003.
James B. Swire, Tiffany’s lawyer, said eBay “simply turned a blind eye” to the sales.
Bruce Rich, eBay’s lawyer, said the site has suspended hundreds of thousands of sellers who broke its rules.
He blamed Tiffany for failing to protect its own trademarks by notifying eBay when it spots sales that seem suspicious. Rich said that when companies do so, eBay often stops the sales even before it can check whether they are legitimate.
In a 2004 lawsuit, Tiffany said it notified eBay a year earlier that thousands of pieces of fake silver jewelry were being sold as if they were genuine Tiffany products.
Swire said the company randomly bought 325 items being sold as genuine Tiffany jewelry on eBay’s Web site from among 280,000 listings related to Tiffany products. Of those, 75 percent turned out to be fake, he said.
He said there was no evidence that eBay did anything to stop the false sales after it reported its findings to the company.
Instead, he said, eBay supports sellers, offering marketing assistance that includes conducting seminars on how to grow the online jewelry business.
Rich said eBay spends more than $10 million annually to clean counterfeit merchandise from its site, which carries 6 million postings a day.
He said the company relies on the expertise of more than 14,000 copyright and trademark owners to find counterfeit merchandise.
“It cannot get it done by itself,” Rich said of eBay.
“We never see this merchandise. We don’t turn a blind eye to it,” he said. “We turn people over to law enforcement all the time.”
He said eBay’s success relies on creating a safe and friendly business.
“There are a lot of bad guys out there and eBay spends an enormous amount of money trying to keep up with it,” Rich said.