This blog post is the companion post to the video: Short Course on Network Marketing: Q&A with Jeffrey Babener on Pyramid Schemes. Expert MLM Attorney, Jeff Babener, answers the question, when it comes to pyramid schemes, how do you tell the difference between one that’s legitimate and one that is not? How do compensation plans affect a company’s legality?

Jeff Babener: There’s a famous Supreme Court decision that where one of the Supreme Court judges was asked to comment on the definition of pornography. He replied that he couldn’t define it, but he knew it when he saw it.  Sometimes you need a metaphor to understand the difference between an illegal pyramid, headhunting, recruitment scheme and a legitimate MLM company.

This story is a good example of the difficulty in defining pyramid schemes. And, you may come to your own conclusion. Here is a metaphor that I use a lot to help people with the definition of pyramid schemes:

The metaphor is about a gentlemen, will call him Party #1, and he sells a case of canned tuna fish to Party #2 for $10. And, Party #2 sells it to Party #3 for $20, and Party #3 sells the case of canned tuna fish until it gets to Party #10, who buys the case of canned tuna for $500. And, Party #10 opens up the case of tuna fish and it’s rancid. It’s inedible.

He goes back to Party #9 and complains, “I bought this case of tuna for $500 and it’s rancid.” Party #9 tells him to take it to Party #8, and Party #8 tells him to take it to Party #7, and so on until Party #10 goes all the way back to Party #1 and says, “You’re the one who started all of this! I have a problem!”

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