Short Reads

EU Court of Justice: Suppliers of luxury goods may prohibit their authorised distributors from selling on third party internet platforms

EU Court of Justice: Suppliers of luxury goods may prohibit their auth

EU Court of Justice: Suppliers of luxury goods may prohibit their authorised distributors from selling on third party internet platforms

06.12.2017 NL law

Today the ECJ rendered its much anticipated judgment in a dispute between a supplier of luxury cosmetics (Coty) and one of its authorised resellers. The central question was whether Coty is allowed under the competition rules to forbid its resellers to sell Coty products over third party internet platforms with visible logos (like eBay or Amazon).

The ECJ ruled that such an “online platform ban” is not incompatible with EU competition law. The Court ruled that online platforms bans can be appropriate in the context of a selective distribution system provided such bans do not go beyond what is necessary to preserve the luxury image of products.

Judgment

This ruling will be welcomed by luxury brand owners. The ECJ confirms that suppliers have considerable freedom under EU competition rules to design their (selective) distribution networks as they see fit. The ECJ’s judgment largely follows previous case law indicating that selective distribution systems which are mainly intended to preserve the ‘luxury image’ of products are not necessarily caught by the cartel prohibition. This is the case where such selective distribution systems meet two criteria: (1) the resellers are chosen on the basis of objective criteria of a qualitative nature which are determined and applied uniformly and (2) the criteria established do not go beyond what is necessary for the preservation of the special character of the products supplied within the selective distribution system (e.g. their luxury image).

In its judgment of today, the ECJ ruled that online platform bans in such selective distribution networks can be an appropriate and necessary means to preserve the luxury image of products sold. Such bans allow brand owners to ensure that the goods are sold in an online environment that corresponds to the brand owner’s qualitative standards. Consequently, an online platform ban within a selective distribution network, in principle, does not restrict competition. By contrast, the ECJ reiterates that an absolute online sales ban imposed on retailers (which for example also prohibits retailers from selling via their own online shops) will not be legal unless objectively justified (see the ECJ judgment in Pierre Fabre).

Implications

The Coty-judgment ends a period of uncertainty over the legality of online platform bans under EU law, which has been the subject of divergent interpretations by the national competition authorities and courts. In Germany, the national competition authority had ruled that online platform bans tend to restrict competition (see our February 2016 Newsletter). Conversely, a Dutch court had recently ruled that a brand owner was allowed to impose an online platform ban on its authorised distributors (see our November 2017 Newsletter). Following the ECJ’s ruling, a remaining point of uncertainty arguably lies in what may qualify as a ‘luxurious’ good.

In any event, today’s ruling in Coty should make it easier for luxury brand owners to create pan-European selective distribution systems, with without worrying too much about divergent interpretations of the competition rules by national courts and authorities in different EU Member States. Online platforms like eBay or Amazon, however, will not be pleased with the outcome of this case. They may see more brand-owners prohibiting their authorised retailers to sell via third party online platforms.

If you have any questions on the above, please contact Rein Wesseling, Christof Swaak or Floris ten Have

Team

Related news

02.07.2020 NL law
European Commission to pull the strings of foreign subsidies

Short Reads - The European Commission is adding powers to its toolbox to ensure a level playing field between European and foreign(-backed) companies active on the EU market. On top of merger control and Foreign Direct Investment screening obligations, companies may also need to account for future rules allowing scrutiny of subsidies granted by non-EU governments if those subsidies might distort the EU Single Market.

Read more

04.06.2020 NL law
Please share – ACM conditionally clears shared mobility platform merger

Short Reads - There may soon be a new competition tool available to tackle structural competition concerns in dynamic tech and platform markets. Until then, competition authorities resort to existing tools to deal with these markets. The Dutch competition authority (ACM) recently subjected the merger of two emerging platforms – without significant market footprint – to behavioural remedies. On 20 May 2020, the ACM cleared the merger between the travel apps of Dutch rail operator NS and transport company Pon.

Read more

02.07.2020 NL law
New competition tool: something old, something new, something borrowed

Short Reads - Large online platforms may face more regulatory obligations, whilst non-dominant companies’ unilateral conduct may soon be curbed. The European Commission intends to tool up its kit by adding a new regulation to keep digital gatekeepers in check, as well as providing more clarity on how to define digital markets in its new Market Definition Notice.

Read more

04.06.2020 NL law
No proof of competitive disadvantage? No abusive favouritism

Short Reads - Companies claiming abuse of dominance in civil proceedings have their work cut out for them, as demonstrated by a ruling of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal. Real estate association VBO had accused dominant online platform Funda of favouritism. However, in line with the District Court’s earlier ruling, the Appeal Court dismissed the claim for insufficient evidence of negative effects on competition. The ruling confirms that the effect-based approach also applies in civil abuse claims, and that the standard of proof is high.    

Read more