The MLM industry has, during the last 20 years, developed positive working relationships with regulatory agencies such as attorneys general and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). There was a time, however, back in the 1970s, when the FTC challenged the legitimacy of the direct selling industry as being a pyramid scheme. They accused Amway of operating illegally and Amway prevailed in a very famous 1979 case [below] where it was held that the network marketing industry is a legitimate business model and the business opportunity is not a pyramid scheme.

No legal ruling has been more impactful on the direct sales industry than The Landmark Amway Case.

Afterwards, regulatory agencies and the industry went quiet until the 1990s when it was questioned whether or not product-using consultants were a legitimate end-destination for products or whether consultants were simply retail customers. There has been an ongoing tug of war between the MLM industry and the FTC in terms of determining whether or not personal use should have an impact on a company’s legitimate operations. The industry, with the cooperation of attorneys generals in more than a dozen states, were able to amend legislation in those states to recognize that personal use of product by distributors is a legitimate end-destination, just as if it were a retail sale.

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MLM Expert Attorney, Jeff Babener offers ten FTC vs. Vemma litigation bullet points.

MLM Expert Attorney, Jeff Babener offers ten FTC vs. Vemma litigation bullet points.

On August 17, 2015, the FTC filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Arizona, seeking a permanent injunction against Tempe-based Vemma International Holdings, Inc., a long-time direct selling marketer of health-related products. The FTC was successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order, which shut the company and froze its assets. Further proceedings for a hearing on a preliminary and permanent injunction and other relief were set to the future.

Such a scenario has been a common approach for the FTC. The most recent actions resulted in permanent injunctions against BurnLounge and Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing. For a summary of the most significant federal actions during the past few decades, please see:

Herbalife: What Short Sellers Missed on the Way to the Press Conference…

Jeffrey Babener (2013)

The primary accusation against Vemma is that its program focused on recruitment rather than sale of product to the ultimate user, thus rendering the program a pyramid scheme and a deceptive practice under FTC legislation. In addition, the FTC has charged that Vemma is deceptive in its earnings representations.

FTC vs. Vemma Litigation Bullet Points:

  1. (a) This case affirms the BurnLounge standard requiring emphasis on sales to ultimate users, which includes nonparticipant retail customers and personal use in reasonable amounts. Primary motivation for distributor purchases should be destination to ultimate users and not to qualify in the plan for compensation.

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Front loading generally refers to a process in which a MLM company, or a sponsoring distributor, encourages a new distributor to purchase far more product than is commercially reasonable under the circumstances. Often the “push” is explained to the recruit as necessary to qualify in the plan. This is an unacceptable practice is often one indicia of a pyramid scheme.

On the other hand, virtually all regulatory agencies recognize that a purchase of an “at cost” sales kit is an acceptable practice in the mainstream of leading direct selling companies. Such mandated kits are typically in the $50-$100 range. They generally entail “hard copy” or online supply of sales and marketing materials as well as ongoing sales and marketing materials updates for a year. Typically the mandated sales kit does not include product and generally a company offers an optional deluxe kit that may include product. Such an optional kit, which is often referred to as a “fast start” kit, may contain several hundred dollars of product. This is not unusual. Although the same regulatory standards on

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“Legal Hotspots for Direct Selling Companies.”

“Legal Hotspots for Direct Selling Companies.”

Nikki Keohohou with the Direct Selling Women’s Alliance (DSWA) hosts the Executive Interview Forum titled “Legal Hotspots for Direct Selling Companies.” The interviewee for this hour is Network Marketing Attorney, Jeff Babener, Editor of www.mlmlegal.com.

View the video on our website: mlmattorney.com or mlmlegal.com; or view it on Youtube.

In this hour-long video, Jeff Babener addresses network marketing industry topics such as:

–          Distributor raiding

–          Pyramid scheme

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Mandated kits are typically in the $50-$100 range.

Frontloading generally refers to a process in which a MLM company, or a sponsoring consultant, encourages a new consultant to purchase far more than is commercially reasonable under the circumstances. Often the “push” is explained to the recruit as necessary to qualify in the compensation plan. This is an unacceptable practice is often one indicia of a pyramid scheme.

On the other hand, virtually all regulatory agencies recognize that purchase of an “at cost” sales kit is an acceptable practice in the mainstream of leading direct selling companies. Such mandated kits are typically in the $50-$100 range. They generally entail “hard copy” or online supply of sales and marketing materials as well as ongoing, updated sales and marketing materials for one year. Typically the mandated sales kit does not include product and generally a company offers an optional deluxe kit that may include product. Such an optional kit, which is often referred to as a “fast start” kit, may contain several hundred dollars of product. This is not unusual. Although the same regulatory standards on upfront, mandated purchases are applicable to party plan companies as they are to other companies; it is not unusual to see party plan companies mandate a beginning starter kit that contains a wide array of products, with a price tag several hundred dollars. Regulatory agencies are very liberal in their view of such mandated purchases in party plan companies because party plan companies are so overwhelmingly retail-oriented and the movement of product to retail customers is the norm, and not the exception.

MLMLegal.com has launched the Innovation Campaign for its February 2014 MLM Startup Conference. Read how to get your two free tickets by clicking HERE!

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Trademark of Herbalife

A Belgian appellate court declared December 3, 2013 that Herbalife is in fact operating in compliance with Belgian law, reports Yahoo! news. This ruling is in response to previous claims by the consumer organization, Test-Aankoop, that the international nutrition company was operating as a pyramid scheme.

Herbalife was established in 1980 and operates in over 75 countries. The company is the world’s fifth top direct selling company, with 2.7 million salespeople in roughly 79 markets, reports mlmlegal.com.

For additional information, read the following articles:

Herbalife:  Belgian Appeal Court: Herbalife is No Pyramid:  Validates Legitimacy: The Next Chapter in Recognition of Personal Use

**See a translated copy of the actual Belgian Court of Appeal Herbalife ruling.

Herbalife Statement Regarding Belgian Appeal Court Ruling

Herbalife: Belgian Court Overturns Pyramid Ruling

Herbalife says Belgian appeals court reversed pyramid scheme finding

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This blog post is the companion post to the video: How to Tell if a Company is a Pyramid or a Legitimate MLM.

You may have been recruited for a network marketing opportunity or you are a recruiter. Inevitably, this question will come up, is the company a pyramid scheme or a legitimate business opportunity?

Although this is a complex legal area, let me share a simple metaphor that draws a clear line in the sand.

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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Interviewer: Jeff, let me ask you this question, what’s the difference between a legitimate direct sales opportunity and a pyramid scheme?

Jeff Babener: If you’re selling a product or service and it stands on its own in the marketplace and people would buy it because they want it, then you have a real, legitimate direct selling company. If on the other hand, the quality of the product is low, the price is high, then it merely becomes an excuse for people to buy the product because they want to qualify for the program in order to recruit others, make money, and earn commissions.

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Some clear criteria for legitimate direct selling/network marketing companies have long been recognized.

In determining whether a program is a legitimate direct selling/network marketing opportunity, the would-be participant should consider several important points:

  1. Goods or Service. Legitimate companies offer high-quality goods or services and guarantee consumer satisfaction. Goods and services must have a “real” demand in the marketplace, or an anticipated “real” demand if the good or service is just being introduced. Goods and services must have their own intrinsic value, such that distributors who purchase them would do so even if they were not involved in a network marketing business opportunity.

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