Thursday, April 17, 2008
Readers Respond (April 16, 2008): NSA Tries to Block EBay Sales of Juice Plus
From Anonymous (April 15, 2008)
I was talked into Juice Plus against my better judgment in a weak moment when my son had contracted an infection, was in the hospital, and nothing seemed to be working. My neighbor is a distributor and she helpfully got us signed up for their automatic shipments. We tried the stuff for a couple of months, realized it was absolutely worthless, but neglected to cancel the order--partly because I did not want to get into it with my neighbor who is a 'true believer' in this stuff. Over time, I had several boxes of unopened Juice Plus that I knew we would never use. Canceling the auto shipments has been a nightmare, so I can only imagine how successful my attempts at getting a refund for unopened product would have been. But the worst part of doing business with these people is their overly-aggressive legal department. I listed the unopened still-in-the-shipping-boxes Juice Plus I had sitting in my cupboards on Ebay for considerably less than I paid for it. It was that or throw it out. I received this letter from NSA 'Internal Affairs':
"Hi [ ], It has recently come to our attention that you have placed an offer to sell Juice Plus+® products on the eBay auction website. This email letter is to inform you that our products are not to be sold by unauthorized individuals for your protection.
Juice Plus+® and other NSA products can only be sold through Independent Distributors. Any use of company trade names or trademarks without permission from NSA is strictly prohibited. NSA Inc. Juice Plus+® is a member of the eBay Vero program and we enforce the right to protect our trademarks.
In light of the foregoing, we request that you Please remove your auction and cease any future offers to sell Juice Plus+® products on the auction website.Please call 1-800-347-6350 with your sales order number during business hours. We are open Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm CST. Let the representative know you removed your auction from eBay for a refund. We can issue you a refund for all of your remaining unopened products.
Thank you for your understanding.
NSA Home Office...USA
140 Crescent Drive
Collierville, TN 38017
For the record, there is no trademark protection that prevents private individuals from selling items they own (purchased from any company) to each other or everybody who has ever had a garage sale would be in violation of intellectual property laws. Had I sold a product that was similar to, but not actually Juice Plus, and represented it as Juice Plus, that would have been a trademark violation. As it is, I sold their product, clearly identified as their product, as a private individual--and at a loss. As they must surely know, they have no case for trademark infringement, so the purpose of these letters is intimidation, pure and simple. Their reference to Ebay's Vero program is a joke. Their 'partnership' with Ebay consists of a link where they spell out their desire that their products be sold only by distributors. This is their preferred business model and they have a right to it. However, it is not the law. Juice Plus is not a prescription item, so they can suggest a distribution model, but they can not legally enforce it. Can you imagine Coca-cola or Revlon or any other legitimate company resorting to these tactics? There is a frightening element of fanaticism in their sales force, and clear bullying and strong-arm tactics in their business tactics. My advice to others--run, don't walk, away from these people.
Others have also complained about NSA’s use of bullying tactics to thwart the sale of Juice Plus on Ebay. It’s unclear as to why NSA would make such an effort to intimidate people who merely want to recoup some of the money they wasted buying Juice Plus. It is possible that NSA simply doesn’t want to draw general attention to Juice Plus because it would inevitably lead to closer scrutiny and more criticism. It is much more effective and safer for NSA to selectively target their product message at the suckers who are culled from among the friends and relatives of Juice Plus distributors -- this is a fundamental feature of the Juice Plus MLM business model. If Juice Plus were to be sold by retailers, rather than through a below-the-radar MLM network, and continued to be promoted using the same misleading and often flagrantly illegal claims that its distributors have routinely been making, the FDA would shut NSA down in a heartbeat.
It’s also likely that NSA doesn’t want Ebayers selling Juice Plus because they typically offer it at a price below that charged by distributors. Consistently undercutting prices would cripple the ability of Juice Plus distributors to unload product, and with that, the pyramid (uh, excuse us, MLM network) would collapse.
It is surprising that NSA would even have an Internal Affairs department, and it is downright baffling as to why a department bearing this name would deal with Ebay transactions, which are obviously not internal affairs at all but rather external affairs. It would be more customary to have a consumer relations, legal, or business affairs department handle such matters. Perhaps NSA likes the title Internal Affairs because it sounds more intimidating, and anyone who can be fooled into buying Juice Plus is probably also gullible enough to be cowed into submission by the fear of NSA’s Internal Affairs stormtroopers coming after them. Even the name NSA is intimidating -- it's the same acronym used by the U.S. National Security Agency.
The senior staff at NSA’s Internal Affairs department include (or did at one time) Elton DuBose, who heads the department, and assistant director Todd White. Aside from Jennifer Drenzek, who wrote the threatening email above, the only other NSA Internal Affairs employee we know of is Jennifer Harris. Her name came up in connection within another warning letter written to a Juice Plus Ebayer.
NSA’s efforts to thwart the sale of Juice Plus on Ebay do not seem to be effective -- there are more than 80 Ebay auction listings for Juice Plus as of today.
Postscript: Regarding the refunds NSA has offered to EBay sellers, it seems that they are not as easy to get as the company would have us believe. In one case, an EBay seller was offered only a partial refund, and in another, NSA kept the returned merchandise and never issued a refund. In response to the latter case, Tabberone’s Hall of Shame had this to say:
"So, boys and girls, what can we deduce from this? In our opinion, not only are the IP people at Juice Plus stupid in their attitude, approach, and knowledge of trademark law, but they are also cheats and not to be trusted."
- Why can't I sell Juice Plus? Health & Beauty Discussion Forums; April 5, 2008.
- Juice Plus. Tabberone’s Hall of Shame; December 18, 2006 (updated April 3, 2007).
- Correspondence from Todd White (NSA Assistant Director of Internal Affairs) regarding EBay auction of Juice Plus, Tabberone’s Hall of Shame; December 4, 2006.
- Correspondence from Jennifer White (NSA Internal Affairs) regarding EBay auction of Juice Plus, Tabberone’s Hall of Shame; December 1, 2006.
We appreciate the offer to return the unopened products. In retrospect, that could have been an easier choice, were your company not encumbered with a pyramid-scheme based dealer model. In reality, it's easier to just sell it to someone who might want it. Rest assured we are making no money from the auction.
While I understand the reason you would wish you could do so, I do not understand from your email the basis for your "prohibition" of product resale. The products in question were purchased legally from your company for their intended use by a member of our family. I am not aware of and have not agreed to any sort of license agreement that transferred with the purchase of your products that would prohibit resale. No trademark infringement has occurred as we have not attempted to sell counterfeit product, or the like. The use of the words "Juice Plus" to describe the product constitutes fair use of your trademark.
Chevrolets are only sold wholesale to Chevrolet dealers, but it is ridiculous to think that reselling a Chevrolet bought from a dealer constitutes trademark infringement against GM.
Your heavy handed email appears to have been intended to intimidate and makes claims that have no merit on their surface. Seems like a pretty abusive way to treat your customers, I would say.
Thank you for posting your letter. I, received the same letter from Ms. Drenzek and I would like to use your response as a foundation on which to formulate my response to their absurd threat.
Like you, I was simply trying to recoup a small portion of the money I spent on unopened product I knew I would not use. Their "logic" is faulty and their business tactics raise a red flag for me.
By their logic, no one should sell anything on eBay unless they produce the product themselves or are authorized by the company that makes the product. Ut-oh...guess I'm in big trouble! Guess I'd better get busy removing all my books, clothing and other stuff from eBay. :-)
I am going to chalk the whole thing up to a "live and learn" experience.
I am grateful for the information I've found on this blog.