Canon USA filed a pair of lawsuits in October against Get It Digital, LLC and several other widely-known gray market retailers in a effort to force them to stop selling gray market Canon cameras and other products in the United States.
I obtained copies of the complaints and exhibits late last week and have reviewed the allegations made and evidence cited within.
In short, Canon USA cites US trademark statutes to argue that, because it is the exclusive licensee for the US market, the federal court should order the defendants to no longer offer imported Canon products for sale.
Who is Being Sued?
In one lawsuit, Canon USA named Get It Digital, LLC and All New Shop, LLC as defendants. Canon alleges that these two retailers are, in fact, one and the same operator that use the same address for their place of business.
In a second lawsuit, Canon USA named F&E Trading, LLC, which is comprised of the following online retailers: Big Value, Inc., Electronics Valley, Electronics Basket, DavisMax, Netsales and Sixth Avenue. Canon also named the individual Albert Houllou as the president and CEO of F&E Trading, LLC.
What is the Harm?
In the complaints filed by Canon USA and obtained by Photography Bay, Canon alleges that the actions of the defendants harm consumers in the following ways:
- Using counterfeit serial numbers on gray market Canon products
- Lack of enforceable warranties or inferior warranty coverage
- Packaging that does not accurately describe the products contained therein
- The inclusion of cheap photocopies of product operating manuals, as opposed to genuine manuals that accompany genuine Canon cameras
- Power supplies and accessories that are counterfeit, manufactured by third partes and/or not compliant with applicable laws, regulations and certifications
In the complaints, Canon USA provides specific examples of each allegation. For instance, Canon shows a counterfeit serial number on what appears to be a 5D Mark III purchased from All New Shop, LLC, which Canon claims had the original serial number plate removed from the bottom of the camera and replaced with a fake plate.
In another exhibit, a Canon 5D Mark III purchased from Sixth Avenue had the original serial number removed and replaced with a sticker that had a blank serial number.
In another example of a 5D Mark III purchased from Get It Digital, LLC, Canon alleges that a non-US charger was included along with a third-party power cord without a UL certification. This is perhaps more concerning because we rely on UL ratings for safe operation of electrical components.
Trademark Infringement Allegations
Canon USA claims that actions by Get It Digital, LLC and the other defendants constitutes trademark infringement, unfair competition and use of false designations of origin and false descriptions and representations with regard to Canon’s registered trademark.
Canon USA also claims that the defendants’ conduct constitutes unfair competition by passing off, misappropriation and imitation of Canon products under common law.
Because Canon USA believes that the continued practice of selling gray market cameras and other products would continue to violate its trademark rights, Canon is asking the federal court to issue an injunction that orders each of these companies to cease all sales of gray market Canon products.
Additionally, Canon USA is going after all of their profits for gray market Canon products sold by these companies, as well as seeking damages incurred by Canon USA, which could include servicing gray market products and other measures Canon USA has taken in response dealing with the defendants’ gray market camera sales. Finally, is also seeking attorneys’ fees and costs associated with filing these lawsuits.
The damages sought by Canon in these lawsuits could very well reach into the millions of dollars and put these companies out of business for good.
What Does This Mean for Us?
The days of finding discounted gray market Canon cameras could be drawing to a close. We have all seen the rise of these imported camera deals over the past couple of years.
Before that, it was often the case that super discounts on cameras were too good to be true. As Get It Digital and others figured out the economics of imported cameras and breaking up kits to sell separately, the solid deals seemed to be more legit. However, as several allegations in these lawsuits demonstrate, there has always been consumer risk involved.
I don’t know that we have seen anything to date that demonstrates the true nature of gray market camera products until seeing the allegations in these lawsuits. Most of these retailers have very positive feedback ratings and I have personally discussed positive purchase experiences with several Photography Bay readers.
The most troubling allegations to me are the counterfeit serial numbers and including non-UL rated power cords. Frankly, the other allegations concerning different boxes, no warranty cards and such are actually what I expect out of a gray market product. These aren’t necessarily ideal but these are issues I consider known risks when purchasing a discounted gray market camera. In fact, those are things I specifically talk about if I pass on a deal on a gray market camera or lens.
Pending the resolution of these cases, however, I am suspending any recommendations for purchasing gray market products from these companies.
I will be keeping track of these cases as they move forward. The defendants are scheduled to file their answers to the complaints (an “answer” is the first response to a “complaint” or lawsuit) by mid-December.
[UPDATE: See the two complaints that I have uploaded to Scribd and embedded below if you want to read them for yourselves.]
Below is the Canon USA v. Get It Digital, LLC, et. al. complaint.
Below is the Canon USA v. F&E Trading, LLC et. al. complaint.