Amazon in Compromise Over German Court Case

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WIESBADEN, Germany - Amazon.de, Amazon.com's German subsidiary, has reached a compromise with the German association of mail order book sellers over charges of false banner advertising.


The booksellers contended that amazon.de's banners took surfers to the amazon site even when they punched in a category -- e.g., typewriters -- and not books about the subject.


Even worse, the sellers charged, if amazon.de did not have any books about typewriters, the surfer was led to the site anyway and told he could order books on a similar theme on the site.


They took their complaint to the county court in Wiesbaden which issued a temporary injunction barring amazon.de from advertising "misleading" data on Internet search engines.


"We've reached an agreement with the plaintiff," amazon.de spokesman Andre Schirmer said, "that changes the conceptual basis of our advertising. We now specify that the surfer is looking for a book about typewriters, not the subject itself.


"Surfers will no longer look for subject matter in our banners but specifically for books. Starting Feb. 9, when the compromise went into effect, our banners ask, 'Are you looking for books about, say, typewriters' rather than about the concept itself."


Schirmer said that the case "was no big deal" but that the mail order association worried about the concept being turned into advertising terminology, and that the court had agreed. "Our banners will now specify that they are about books."


Schirmer insisted that the case was too narrow to indicate a trend in German jurisprudence, and that it had nothing to do with Lands' End's recent legal problems on the German market.


The Wisconsin-based apparel cataloger lost a landmark case last year when Germany's highest court refused to hear an appeal against an appellate court ruling banning advertisement of Lands' End's "unconditional" guarantee.


The cataloger takes back any item no matter when it was sold, no questions asked. A German anti-competition group sued on the basis of a 1932 law that such guarantees were "extra" products given away as premiums, and that such premiums were illegal.


"In this case nobody said we did anything unlawful," Schirmer explained. "The only charge was that the customer might not be in a position to realize just what he was doing, that is asking amazon to search for a concept, not a book. That's Yahoo and other search engines' job."


But Schirmer also noted that the association of mail order book sellers was made up of many small single enterprises who cannot achieve the reach and breadth of customer involvement that amazon.de can.
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