|Mon Nov 18 2013 20:45:31|
How Liable Are You for the Products You Sell?
By: Ina Steiner
Did you know that simply describing a product you sell can land you in hot water, even if you have nothing to do with the production or content of that item? Should you think twice before you list certain items for sale on Amazon, eBay or elsewhere online?
When I think about sellers' liability for the products they sell, I generally think about faulty features and recalls. When it comes to selling books, pamphlets or manuals and the like, it seems like it's the author or publisher who is liable for the content, but a new case impacting Amazon in the UK has me wondering how liable sellers are for the products they sell, including the content of the books they sell.
Should Amazon or any other marketplace be held responsible for claims made in listings descriptions that are pulled directly from the publication they're selling?
The case came up when UK's advertising regulatory agency ASA investigated a complaint against Amazon for the way it described a book available for sale on its website called "Melanie's Marvelous Measles."
Included in Amazon's description of the book was the following, "Melanie's Marvelous Measles was written to educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully. Often today, we are being bombarded with messages from vested interests to fear all diseases in order for someone to sell some potion or vaccine, when, in fact, history shows that in industrialized countries, these diseases are quite benign and, according to natural health sources, beneficial to the body."
The complainant used an interesting approach to get Amazon to stop selling the book - or at least to try to get Amazon to change the way it was selling the book: it called Amazon's description of the book an advertisement, and it filed a complaint with the UK advertising regulatory agency.
They filed the complaint on the following grounds:
1) the implied claim that measles was benign; and
2) the implied claims that vaccination was unnecessary and unsafe were misleading and could be substantiated.
3) The complainant also challenged whether the ad discouraged essential treatment for a condition for which medical supervision should be sought.
Amazon said the "product detail" page of its website, including the text in the product description, was created automatically from a catalog data feed supplied by a third-party. Amazon pointed out that the claims were a verbatim reproduction of text on the book's cover, and stated that as such they were editorial content only.
According to the ASA ruling, Amazon also said the company was "keen to ensure that their customers were able to post reviews on the website of products sold, and noted that the reviews for the book indicated that the author's views on the subject matter of the book appeared to be shared by a significant minority of customers." You can read more about Amazon's response on the ASA website.
Nevertheless, the ASA concluded that the Amazon "ad" was irresponsible because it discouraged essential treatment for measles. "On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Responsible advertising) and 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products)."
The ASA wrote in its ruling, "The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Amazon to ensure that their marketing communications did not imply that expressions of opinion were objective claims and did not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought."
Amazon continues to sell the book but has changed the description:
"Melanie's Marvelous Measles is a book written by Stephanie Messenger who has devoted her life to educating people about vaccines and natural health choices. This book takes children on a journey to learn about vaccinations for childhood illnesses, like measles and chicken pox."
What do you think about the case - should retailers, online marketplaces and online sellers take the time to verify all product descriptions for their accuracy? Does this make you think of your own product listing descriptions in a new light?