U.C.C. Article 2 Warranties and Internet-Based Transactions: Do The Article 2 Warranties Sufficiently Protect Internet-Based Transactions With Unprofessional Internet Merchants?
FORDHAM JOURNAL OF
CORPORATE & FINANCIAL LAW
Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law
Daniel K. Wiig
Copyright c 2007 by the authors. Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law is produced
by The Berkeley Electronic Press (bepress). http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/jcfl
U.C.C. ARTICLE 2 WARRANTIES
AND INTERNET-BASED TRANSACTIONS:
DO THE ARTICLE 2 WARRANTIES SUFFICIENTLY
PROTECT INTERNET-BASED TRANSACTIONS WITH
UNPROFESSIONAL INTERNET MERCHANTS?
Daniel K. Wiig1
Since 1995, buyers and sellers have converged on eBay, the largest
person-to-person online system, to bid on and auction off a variety of
items.2 eBay brings people together in a manner in which sellers are
permitted to list items for sale, buyers can bid on items of interest, and
all users can browse through the listed items in with ease. The items are
arranged by category; eBay boasts roughly 4,320 different categories of
items to choose from.3 These items include automobiles, collectibles,
antiques, toys, books, computer paraphernalia,4 and even New Zealand!5
On this and other similar person-to-person trading sites, buyers are
compelled to shop because of the large amount of items available, and
sellers are compelled to conduct business because of the large pool of
buyers. Each day, nearly 4 million auctions take place and 450,000
items are added on eBay.6
Welcome to the Internet Age! It started with the “boom” in the
mid1990s and, despite a few busts here and there, continues to progress. It
is the age of the desktop shopper. It is the age in which an individual
can take care of shopping needs from the comfort of home or office. It
is the age in which those hard-to-find items are a few mouse clicks
away. But it isn’t just the age that added convenience to the buyer; it is
also the age that saw the birth of a new kind of seller: the
“unprofessional Internet merchant.”7 It is the age that allowed
individuals to conveniently sell unwanted goods by simply posting an
advertisement on a website. Unlike the age of old, where such a person
would have to host a garage sale or find a flea market in order to transact
with potential buyers, the Internet age conveniently provides a new
This has revolutionized the “distance sale,” a faceless transaction
between two people set apart. Historically, established merchants
conducted a faceless-distance sale via a catalogue, e.g., Sears Robach &
Company. Or, two established merchants conducted the distance sale
between themselves, e.g., the baker ordering chocolate from the
chocolate factory. In both scenarios, buyer and seller knew whom they
were transacting with.8 But now, a distance sale is a faceless transaction
between two people who know nothing about each other except their
While these new faceless-distance transactions may be the logical
outgrowth of the Internet age, the rules found in Article 2 of the Uniform
Commercial Code9 (“Article 2”), which were originally devised for
face-to-face transactions, may be inappropriate.10 Assume that Seller, a
lawyer by profession, sells what she describes as a “rare” coin on eBay.
This coin was in her possession for some time before she decided to sell
the coin.11 Assume that Buyer places the highest bid for the coin on
6. See eBay Homepage, supra note 3.
7. The phrase “unprofessional internet merchant” was developed by this author
and will be used throughout this essay.
8. An established merchant is known to both its customers and business partners.
9. U.C.C. Art. 2 (2003).
10. Article 2 is also applicable to the historical faceless-distance transaction. This
will be discussed more in depth, infra.
11. The fact that the seller did not simply sell the coin that was still in the original
package denies the seller the “sealed-box” defense. The sealed-box defense is
applicable when a merchant sells a good still in its original packaging.
eBay. Buyer is notified by eBay that Buyer “won,” and then Buyer
conducts the transaction with Seller.12 Shortly thereafter, Buyer takes
possession of the coin. The coin, however, is not “rare” as Buyer
understood the term to mean. Seller was not guilty of any fraud with
respect to the sale—she used the term “rare” as she honestly believed the
term should be used.13 Buyer then claims that the coin is not accepted
as a “rare” coin in the ordinary course of the coin business.14 Does
Buyer have any recourse against Seller? What should the “reasonable”
buyer surfing eBay expect from such a potential transaction?15
In a face-to-face transaction, the buyer likely knows with whom the
buyer is transacting: is the seller a person whose business it is to sell
goods of this kind? If so, the buyer can reasonably be assured that the
seller has expertise in, and knowledge of, the good sold. Therefore, a
reasonable buyer has certain justifiable expectations with regard to the
transaction that go beyond any representations the seller makes with
respect to the good sold.16 The Implied Warranty of Merchantability
(the “implied warranty”) provides the protective covering for such a
12. See eBay Homepage, supra note 2. Sellers list a good on eBay with a
minimum price and a deadline for the auction to end. Once the deadline closes, eBay
notifies the winning buyer. Based upon the seller’s payment instructions, the actual
purchase then follows.
13. Affirming the quality of the good amounts to an express warranty.
U.C.C. § 2-313 (2003). The express warranty, unlike the implied warranty, can be
made by any seller, regardless of the “type” of seller. This will be discussed in further
14. The Implied Warranty of Merchantability, U.C.C. § 2-314, deals with what is
considered acceptable in the ordinary course of business. This will be discussed in
further detail, infra.
15. Disputes over items not received or received but significantly not as described
can usually be resolved by direct communication between buyers and sellers. eBay
provides an online process to help facilitate communication. See eBay Help Topic
“Item Not Received or Significantly Not as Described Process,” available at
http://pages.ebay.in/help/tp/inr-snad-process.html (last visited Apr. 16, 2007).
Although dispute resolution options are provided and encouraged by eBay, the user
agreement does not explicitly limit a user’s traditional common law rights to seek
redress for tortious activity. See Sayeedi v. Walser, No. 10610/06, 2007 WL 623521, at
*1 (N.Y. City Civ. Ct. Feb. 27, 2007).
16. The Implied Warranty of Merchantability is almost a second-line defense for
the buyer. If the express warranty cannot protect the buyer and the transaction, the
implied warranty could. But this hinges on whether the seller is a goods merchant, as
defined in U.C.C. § 2-104. See U.C.C. § 2-314(
Is the seller merely attempting to dispense with unwanted
Christmas gifts? If so, the buyer has little assurance, other than what is
expressly stated regarding the good. Therefore, a reasonable buyer
would have limited justifiable expectations with regard to the transaction
beyond what was expressly promised.
In the former, the seller would be classified as a “merchant”18 and
therefore gives the implied warranty.19 In the latter, the seller would not
be classified as a merchant; the implied warranty is therefore
inapplicable. But what about an Internet-based transaction, where the
buyer has no knowledge of the seller and the seller’s knowledge level of
the good is higher-than-average, yet does not rise to the level of the
This essay examines how changes in commerce brought about by
the Internet have led to a need for Article 2 to evolve and adapt.
Specifically, Article 2 needs to take into account the new merchant
class, the “unprofessional Internet merchant,” and a new warranty that
would protect transactions between this new type of merchant and a
potential buyer. Warranties provide a protective covering for
transactions. But knowledge and expertise, the foundational elements
for Article 2’s warranties, are not necessarily present in all
Internetbased transactions. Therefore, the current Article 2 warranties may not
always offer sufficient protection. Part II will briefly examine the
different definitions of “merchant” found in Article 2 Section 2-104.
Part III will examine the history, purposes, and theories behind the
concept of warranties. Part IV will examine the implied and express
warranties, and some theories as to why the implied warranty applies
only to a goods merchant. Part V will re-examine the hypothetical
transaction described at the start of this essay under four scenarios: (
The face-to-face transaction with a professional merchant; (
faceto-face transaction with an unprofessional merchant; (
facelessdistance transaction with a professional merchant; and (
facelessdistance transaction with an unprofessional merchant. Part VI will
17. The same analysis would be applicable to the historical faceless-distance sale
between established merchants or between an established merchant selling goods via a
18. The term “merchant” is defined to include both someone who deals in the
particular goods involved in the transaction and someone who holds him or herself out
as having expertise in a specific good. U.C C. § 2-104(
19. See U.C.C. § 2-314(
further analyze the faceless-distance transaction with an unprofessional
Internet merchant and suggest new warranties that are more appropriate
for this new type of transaction. Part VII concludes the essay with
suggested additions to Article 2.
II. ARTICLE 2 MERCHANT DEFINITIONS
An analysis of merchant qualification in Article 2 begins with
Section 2-104. The section defines the term “merchant” as a person
“who deals in goods of the kind or otherwise by occupation is held out
as possessing knowledge or a skill set that is particular to the practice or
the goods involved in the transaction.”20 An individual is also deemed a
merchant if this knowledge or skill set is attributed to the employment of
an agent, broker, or other intermediary “who by his occupation holds
himself out as having such knowledge or skill.”21
While it might appear from the outset that anyone who qualifies as
a merchant under Section 2-104 must comply with all of Article 2’s
default rules, the Code’s comments provide clarification.22 Merchant
status depends on the particular Section involved, which in turn depends
on the specific legal issue involved.23 The broad-stroke concept of the
merchant seems to lie in the notion of professionalism: a person is a
merchant because of some professional affiliation or activity. With
professionalism, of course, comes knowledge. This notion of
professionalism can manifest itself in two forms: professional status
with respect to the trade of particular goods, or professional status with
respect to general business practices.
A. Merchant with Respect to Goods
While Article 2 defines the term “merchant,” it does not clearly
define “merchants with respect to goods of a particular kind.” However,
comments to the Code indicate that this is a much smaller group than
simply anyone engaged in a business.24 This refers only to individuals
who deal in particular goods: a person who sells golf balls, a
manufacturer of coffee machines, and a company that manufactures
widgets would all be considered merchants with respect to the specific
good sold. An individual who deals strictly in a certain type of good,
and not one who simply engages in general business, is classified as a
There are others who might appear to qualify as goods merchants,
but in actuality do not. The professional sailor who sells her boat, the
professional golfer who sells his golf clubs, and the auto mechanic who
sells his car, all by their profession may hold themselves out to be an
expert in the particular field. But their respective one-off, isolated sales
cannot fit the notion of a seller with respect to goods of the kind. For
example, in Cohen v. Hathaway,25 commercial fishermen sold their
boat, but the boat proved to be defective. The fisherman committed no
fraud, nor did he provide any express warranties.26 Since the court
found that they were not in the business of selling boats, the court held
that they were not merchants with respect to goods of the kind.27
Likewise, the court held that an air-conditioning repair company was not
a goods merchant when it sold a defective air-conditioning pump.28 The
air-conditioning repair company was not in the business of selling
pumps, nor did it sell enough pumps over a period of time to qualify as a
de facto air-conditioning pump merchant. 29
In summary, in order to qualify as a goods merchant, the individual
must display a pattern of selling a particular good over some period of
time. And along with that pattern of selling comes an expertise or
knowledge of that particular good.
B. The Business-Practices Merchant
Section 2-104’s comments include the merchant class of individuals
who possess special knowledge related to general business practices.30
This refers to almost every single person in business. This class
includes the grocery store owner, the used car salesman, and the major
department store.31 The grocery store owner is a business merchant
when bread is sold, the used car salesman is a business merchant when a
car is sold, and the department store entity is a business merchant when
a sofa-bed is sold.32 This distinction is limited to those situations in
which the business merchant is selling in a business capacity, and not in
a personal capacity. 33 When the grocery store owner sells his fishing
rods, he is not functioning as a business merchant; he is not selling in the
“official” capacity as a businessperson. 34
In summary, in order to qualify as a business merchant, the
transaction in question must be within the business sphere. Put simply:
any person engaged in business is a business merchant under Article 2.
The seller, however, must conduct the transaction in the role of
businessperson within the business environment.
Underlying any express or implied warranty is the promise that the
good sold will be as promised, or meet its ordinarily-expected baseline
standard.35 The warranty is the “cushion”—the protection that the buyer
is assured of when the transaction is made. The cushion, it can be said,
is premised on the buyer’s knowledge that the seller has a certain level
The first type of warranty given was the express warranty: goods
delivered would be as promised.36 An action for breach of warranty
arose out of the English Commodities Markets, and protected buyers
who purchased goods that did not meet the sellers’ representations.37
The breach was first viewed as a tort under the doctrine of
misrepresentation.38 This seems to be rather obvious: goods purchased
should be as promised. The car advertised as a 1966 Ford Mustang
should be a 1966 Ford Mustang, and the jellybean jar advertised as
bearing the signature of Ronald Reagan should be a jellybean jar bearing
the signature of Ronald Reagan. Allowing the aggrieved buyer a
remedy is equitable and just.
The tide turned in the 18th century, as businesspeople become more
sophisticated (or, to be more cynical, more clever), and did not always
make express warranties. Buyers frequently found themselves
purchasing goods that didn’t meet their expectation. A good that should
have functioned in one way didn’t, and buyers found themselves without
recourse.39 As a result, another theory surfaced: the reasonable-buyer
standard.40 The expectations of a reasonable buyer in the transaction
were taken into account, and this reasonableness turned again on
knowledge: it is reasonable for a buyer to expect something, beyond the
express representations, when the seller possesses a heightened-level of
knowledge in the good sold.
Warranties, and the remedies for their breach, began to fall into the
contract-law area.41 In order to provide a remedy for the aggrieved
buyer who was not given an express warranty, the courts began to find
an implied warranty in sales contracts.42 Since the courts couldn’t
impose an express statement on what the particular good could or
couldn’t do, the courts began to hold that within a sales contract was an
implicit promise that the good met certain minimum-quality standards.
An early case imposing the implied warranty was Gardiner v.
Gray.44 In that case, the buyer purchased silk. The silk turned out to be
of very poor quality and not acceptable within the silk trade. The buyer
wanted to rescind the contract, but the seller argued that since no express
warranty was made, the contract should remain intact.45 The Gardiner
court disagreed, and allowed the buyer to rescind the contract. The court
held that the “intention of both parties must be taken to be, that the
goods shall be saleable in the market under the denomination mentioned
in the contract between them.”46 The court held that inherent in a
contract naming a good was an implicit promise that the seller would
deliver something that would normally be expected of the good.47 The
court also inferred that the seller, who was a repeat seller of silk, had a
heightened-level of silk-trade knowledge. The buyer relied on the
seller’s knowledge when the buyer entered the contract.48
The courts began to adopt the term “merchantable” to describe the
implied warranty that they began to impose.49 The term was devised to
describe the comparison of the good’s worthiness to others like it in the
market. Courts began to look to the good’s trade to see what was
customarily expected of it.50 Subsequent cases adopted this standard: if
no express warranty was included, a sales contract contained an implicit
promise of merchantability.51 Not only must the good be of a quality
that could be sold on the market, but the good must also be fit for its
ordinary use. These principles were first codified in the Uniform Sales
Act52 and were carried over into Article 2.53
In summary, contract law evolved to include in a sales contract the
implicit promise that the good sold would perform as ordinarily
expected. The coffeemaker would brew coffee without a problem, the
car would run smoothly, and the lawnmower would work properly.
There is logic to this: consumers should expect the good to perform
normally and sellers should conduct business with due care. A buyer
should have confidence that a seller, in certain circumstances, possesses
45. Implicit in every contract for the sale of goods is that the transaction is
conducted in “good faith.” Gray, 171 Eng. Rep. at 47; See also U.C.C. § 1-203 (1977).
In the cases cited and in the hypothetical analyzed, good faith is assumed.
46. Gray, 171 Eng. Rep. at 47.
49. See Prosser, supra note 38, at 121.
52. UNIF. SALES ACT § 15(
53. See U.C.C. § 2-314(
superior knowledge of the good sold, and that the superior knowledge is
implicitly part of the bargain. It is this concept of knowledge on which
the implied warranty turns. The drafters of Article 2 codified the
implied warranty in Section 2-314. Article 2, however, limits the class
of sellers who give this implied warranty to the goods merchant.
Section 2-314’s provisions and an analysis as to why the goods
merchant is the only class of merchants to give this implied warranty is
IV. U.C.C. § 2-314 AND THE GOODS MERCHANT
Section 2-314 is the Article 2 section for the implied warranty. The
implied warranty does not arise from any promise made by the seller,
but rather arises by operation of law.55 The implicit promise is that the
goods sold are merchantable. Article 2 does not provide an exact
definition of merchantable, but Section 2-314 instead provides a list of
minimum qualities that must be met in order for goods to pass the
merchantability test.56 The characteristics given for merchantable goods
can be summarized in three broad categories: (
) the good must be of
average quality compared to other goods in the industry, (
) it must be
fit for the ordinary purpose for which it will be used, and (
) it must be
properly packaged and labeled.57 In contrast to the express warranty,58
which can be breached even if the good is not perfect but was advertised
in such a way that made it closer to perfect, the implied warranty cannot
be breached unless the good is defective in some way, i.e., not
Courts have found such defects in a variety of circumstances. The
seller breached the implied warranty when a mobile home proved
defective with a leaky roof and inadequate plumbing.59 A mechanical
device’s poor design was a breach of the implied warranty.60 Sellers
were also liable for breach of the implied warranty when they failed to
provide proper instructions on how to remove snow from a clogged
snow blower.61 Goods that cannot perform the task for which they were
purchased do not meet the merchantability test. The seller breached the
implied warranty when he sold a medical scanner that could only scan
the head and not the entire body.62
Ever-present is the idea that the good must live up to the seller’s
implicit promise and the reasonable buyer’s expectations. However, the
Article 2 drafters somehow believed that only a goods merchant
implicitly promises that the minimum merchantability standards are met.
This, on the surface, seems to contradict the underlying purposes of a
warranty. The buyer, whom the warranty is meant to protect, is
protected only in certain, limited transactions.
The drafter’s reasoning may be that a goods merchant has the
special skill set and expertise that the business merchant would not.
When a merchant deals only with one specific type of good, the
merchant will develop a greater expertise in that good. Like any person
who hones a craft, over time a specialist is born. It is the goods
merchant who deals to such a high extent in a particular trade that the
reasonable buyer’s heightened expectations are justified. It is the goods
merchant who by trade or by knowledge knows specifically how the
good is used in the trade, what it should or shouldn’t do, and the normal
differences between a like-used good and a like-new good. The goods
merchant makes a livelihood from this trade. This drafters’ logic may
be that to whom more is attributed, more is expected.
V. ONE TRANSACTION, FOUR POSSIBLE RESULTS
Article 2 was drafted in a time that pre-dated the Internet and the
electronic-communication age.63 It was drafted in an age that
contemplated face-to-face transactions, when buyer and seller met to
conduct business. It was drafted in an age that conceived only two types
of merchants: the business merchant and the goods merchant. It was
drafted in an age where the buyer likely knew exactly with whom the
buyer was dealing with by virtue of a face-to-face transaction. The
buyer at the flea market likely knew he was dealing with a person trying
to empty out his attic and make some extra money. The buyer at the
grocery store knew she was dealing with a person who was a
“professional” in the grocery business and with respect to the goods sold
in the grocery store.
When Article 2 was drafted, the concept of a faceless-distance sale
existed. That earlier, faceless-distance sale was logically related to the
face-to-face transaction: the faceless-distance sale involved, and could
only involve, professional merchants.64 The buyer knew that the person
on the other end of the faceless-distance transaction was a professional
merchant. The buyer, in turn, had the protection of Article 2
assurances—if the express warranty did not, or could not, protect the
transaction, the implied warranty provided the necessary protection.
But the Internet has added a new dimension to the faceless-distance
transaction, with the arrival of the unprofessional Internet merchant. If a
merchant is not a goods merchant, the implied warranty is inapplicable.
This leaves only the express warranty as the protective covering for the
transaction. Express warranties, however, are not necessarily sufficient
enough to protect a transaction.
Let’s return to the hypothetical at the start of this article. The buyer
in a face-to-face transaction with a professional goods merchant has
assurances: the buyer knows that this is a professional merchant, and
that the merchant has a heightened-knowledge level in the coin.
Furthermore, the buyer has the opportunity to examine the coin. If there
is an indication that the coin is not “rare”, the reasonable buyer may
decline the transaction. If the buyer buys the coin, the express and
implied warranties protect the buyer. If, however, the express warranty
is inapplicable, i.e., buyer and seller attributed in good faith different
meanings to the term “rare”, the implied warranty will still protect the
transaction. The buyer in this transaction gets the “fullness” of Article
2’s inherent protections.
The faceless-distance transaction with a professional goods
merchant is not all that different. In this situation, the buyer purchases
the coin via the professional coin merchant’s mail-order catalogue or
website. The buyer knows the merchant, and with that knowledge
64. In the era that pre-dated the internet, only established merchants could
financially afford to sell goods via a catalog or take any form of a “distance” order.
comes assurances. Here, however, the buyer has no opportunity to
examine the coin personally. Rather, the buyer has to rely solely on the
seller’s representations. But again, if there is a good-faith dispute as to
the meaning of the term “rare” as applied to the coin, the buyer has the
added protection of the implied warranty. The buyer again has the
fullness of Article 2’s protections.
The face-to-face transaction with an unprofessional merchant
occurs at the garage sale, flea market, or in response to a classified
advertisement. The buyer in this situation has the opportunity to
examine the coin to determine its “rareness,” and if the reasonable buyer
determines after examination that the coin is not rare, the transaction can
be voided. But if the buyer purchases the coin, and if the coin is not as
represented, the only Article 2-based protection is the express warranty.
An honest, good-faith disagreement may exist as to the meaning of
“rare.” It is possible that in this one-off transaction, an aggrieved buyer
may have no remedy. It is here that caveat emptor may still apply. 65
The faceless-distance transaction with an unprofessional Internet
merchant occurs when the buyer “surfs” the World Wide Web, and
shops on a person-to-person site. The buyer can only rely on the seller’s
representations—there is no opportunity to examine the coin. The result
here is essentially the same as the previous hypothetical: the seller is
dealing with an unprofessional merchant and only the express warranty
is available. If there is a good-faith conflict as to the meaning of “rare”,
the buyer is once again subject to the doctrine of caveat emptor. This
begs the question: why the concern in this latter-day, Internet-age
transaction when the possibility of this outcome has existed since the
advent of the garage sale or the flea market?
The answer lies in the frequency of the activity, and the desire to
make the new-found system of unprofessional-Internet-merchants
transactions work. The garage sales, the flea markets, and the
unprofessional seller who advertises the sale of a good in the local
newspaper were in many ways one-off and sporadic. These transactions
existed, but the regularity or the commercial prominence of such
transactions did not exist. With the Internet-age,
unprofessional65. “Caveat Emptor” is a Latin proverb that means “buyer beware.” See “Caveat,”
BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (8th ed. 2004). The proverb has been described as “good
advice” for buyers, not necessarily a statement of some duty of buyers to ask every
possible question concerning the good. Whether caveat emptor is applicable is generally
on a case-by-case basis.
merchant transactions occur every day. It has essentially evolved into a
new business model. The unprofessional Internet merchant has taken its
place alongside the business merchant and the goods merchant.
The Article 2 drafters’ world had two merchants: (
) the business
merchant, and (
) the goods merchant, with the common law evolving to
protect certain commercial transactions. Article 2’s drafters codified
common law practices with some modifications. As buyers and sellers
became more sophisticated and the common law evolved, the drafters
sought to give buyers the protection of law and give sellers reasonable
rules to abide by.66
The commercial world continues to evolve. Just as the courts, and
subsequently Article 2’s drafters, conceived of the merchantability
concept to protect transactions that the express warranty could not
protect67, so should Article 2 contain a new protection for buyers
involved in unprofessional-Internet-merchant transactions, and a new
standard for unprofessional Internet merchants to adhere to. Just as the
law developed over time to take into account the evolving and changing
commercial world in the past, the law must continue to develop and take
into account emerging and evolving commercial transactions.
VI. CHOOSING A NEW KIND OF WARRANTY
FOR A NEW KIND OF TRANSACTION
Article 2’s drafters codified the common law of commercial
transactions as these rules applied at that time. Business merchants and
goods merchants were contemplated. Express warranties required
sellers to deliver as promised, and assured the buyer that if the buyer did
not get what was promised, the buyer had a remedy. Implied warranties
held specialized merchants to a higher standard, and gave buyers a
heightened-level of assurances when dealing with these specialized
merchants. But with the arrival of the Internet, which gave birth to the
unprofessional Internet merchant, these warranties as written are not
necessarily sufficient to protect the buyer. An examination of warranties
in an Internet-age transaction follows.
66. See U.C.C. § 2-314(
A. The Problem with Express and Implied Warranties
The express warranty likely protects the bulk of Internet-based
transactions. The majority of goods sold on person-to-person sites can
be described in terms that would get the express warranty protection.
eBay and its cousins generally have a picture of the good for sale along
with a description; this combination amounts to an express warranty.68
If the good sold does not meet these express representations, the express
warranty is thus breached and the aggrieved buyer has a remedy.
The problem with express warranties arises when terms and
descriptions with less-than-clear-cut meanings are used to describe the
good. What is meant exactly by describing a good as in “mint
condition”? “Mint,” when used to describe a coin, may have an entirely
different meaning when the word is used to describe the condition of a
thirty-year-old comic book. Terms can have different meanings to
different people, and can have different meanings when applied to
different goods. Express warranties tend to work in generic terms. But
when terms with specialized meanings are involved, notably in the
faceless-distance transaction, an Internet-based seller should be
obligated to take additional steps.
In the standard person-to-person site, the participating seller is
generally, although not exclusively, not a professional. Therefore, the
implied warranty of merchantability is inapplicable. There are
situations, however, where an Internet-based seller is indeed a goods
merchant and, therefore, the implied warranty is applicable. This
information, however, is not disclosed; eBay et al, do not require sellers
to disclose their identity.69 Obviously, without disclosure, the buyer
would not have knowledge about the seller, and therefore would not
have the assurances that are implicit in a transaction with a professional.
In order to remove the gray area, an Internet-based seller should be
obligated to take additional steps.
B. Additional Step Number 1: Identity Disclosure
Internet-based sellers should be required to disclose their identity,
profession, business and other related experiences. This disclosure
68. See Lawrence & Henning, supra note 55, at 120.
policies/privacy-policy.html#Disclosure (last visited Apr. 16, 2007).
obligation would fill the gap regarding the buyer’s knowledge of the
In the historical faceless-distance transaction, the buyer knows with
whom the buyer is dealing. When a buyer orders from the J.C. Penny
Christmas catalogue, the buyer knows that they are dealing with J.C.
Penny, a professional merchant. Embedded in this transaction are the
Article 2 assurances that the buyer is protected should the good not
perform as promised or as ordinarily expected.
In all but one of the transaction discussed, it was only the
facelessdistance transaction with the unprofessional merchant that the buyer had
no knowledge of the seller. This disclosure would provide the buyer
with that knowledge.
C. Additional Step Number 2: Full Goods Disclosure
As previously mentioned, the express warranty would be sufficient
to provide a protective covering in an overwhelming number of eBay
transactions. A photograph and a generic description would inform the
buyer of what he or she would get should the buyer decide to proceed
with the transaction. If the good, upon arrival, does not conform to the
description, the express warranty was breached and the buyer has a
But when terms that can have different meanings are used, or when
the terms used have very specific meanings within a certain trade or
course of business, the express warranty is insufficient. Conflicting
understandings of a term’s meaning may leave an aggrieved buyer
without a remedy, and possibly allow an individual to sell without
proper rules to abide by.
A full goods disclosure should require the seller to describe the
good with particularity—minute details of the good should be disclosed.
This is just. Since the buyer has no opportunity to examine the good,
and may not have the heightened-level implied warranty protection, the
seller should abide by rules that provide this added protection to the
A goods disclosure should require that the seller provide the proper
meaning of certain words used in the description of the good advertised
for sale or for auction. For example, in the hypothetical at the start of
this essay, the seller used the term “rare” to describe the coin. Under
this proposed disclosure obligation, the seller would have to provide a
definition of the word “rare” as that term relates to the coin trade.
Definitions of this type are generally found in certain trade-related
The oft-stated phrase that we should first begin with the statute is
applicable here. The proposed additions to the U.C.C. are as follows:
§ 2-104. Definitions: “Merchant”; “Between Merchants”;
“Financing Agency”; “Unprofessional Internet Merchant”
) An unprofessional Internet merchant is a merchant who engages
in transactions over an Internet-based venue. Such merchant does not
deal in goods of the kind and does not hold himself out to having any
special knowledge with goods of the kind.
§ 2-315a. Disclosures in an Internet-Based Transaction
) Any seller who engages in transactions over an Internet-based
venue that is not the seller’s Internet-based venue but is an
Internetbased venue that allows multiple sellers to sell goods must disclose:
(a) The seller’s name;
(b) Whether the seller deals in goods of the kind in the seller’s
ordinary course of business; and
(c) Any specialized knowledge the seller may have in the good that
the seller is attempting to sell.
) In regards to the good sold, the seller must disclose:
(a) A detailed description of the good;
(b) The meaning of words used to describe the good; and
(c) If the words used to describe the good have a specific meaning
within the trade or usage that the good is a part of, the seller must
disclose the definition of such words.
Let us return to the hypothetical that was presented at the start of
this essay. If the seller disclosed that the seller is not a professional coin
seller, the buyer has gained information about the seller that the buyer
could have obtained if this was a face-to-face transaction. If the buyer
discloses the meaning of the term “rare” as that term is used in the coin
70. For example, the U.S. Coin Redbook defines terms as these terms relate to
coins. Similar publications are available for other good types.
trade, the buyer is then given full disclosure, because rare has a specific
meaning in this trade, and the seller did or did not use the term
In each of the possible transactions conceived by Article 2’s
drafters, the fundamentals, as mentioned, were knowledge and
reasonableness: the knowledge the seller had regarding the good; the
knowledge the buyer had regarding the seller; and the seller’s reasonable
requirements to engage in the transaction. The new type of transaction,
which involves the unprofessional Internet merchant, did not necessarily
have these fundamental protections. The proposed additions to Article 2
take this into account through disclosure. Disclosure of the seller’s
identity and business practices gives the buyer knowledge of whom the
buyer is dealing with in a faceless-Internet-based transaction. Full
disclosure of the good, including the proper meaning of terms used to
describe the good, gives the buyer full knowledge of the good. Both of
these disclosure obligations provide reasonable rules for a seller to abide
by in an Internet-based transaction. In following its historical pattern of
codifying commercial practices, the Article 2’s reporters should codify
these proposed rules regarding these evolving commercial transactions.
1. Daniel K. Wiig is law clerk for the Honorable Richard B . Lowe III , Justice , Commercial Division, New York Supreme Court. He earned a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 2006; an M.B .A. from Fordham University in 2002; and a B.S. from St . John's University in 1995 . He would like to thank Ted Janger, Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, for his advice and guidance .
2. eBay is only one of a number of internet-based venues that permit unprofessional sellers to enter goods into the flow of commerce.
3. See generally eBay Home Page, available at http://www.ebay. com (last visited Apr . 14 , 2007 ) (offering statistics about eBay) .
5. eBay Pulls Sale of New Zealand, N.Y. TIMES, May 13 , 2006 at A6. III. HISTORY OF THE WARRANTY AND THE IDEA OF “MERCHANTABILITY”
31. Karl Llewellyn , On Warranty of Quality and Society: II, 37 COLUM. L. REV . 341 , 408 ( 1937 ).
32. Id . It is worth noting that a merchant may satisfy the goods of the kind and business merchant qualifications simultaneously .
33. See Note 28, supra, at 320. Id.
34. Similarly, none of these aforementioned transactions could fall under the goods-merchant distinction, because none of these sellers has a particular skill or chronic sales experience with respect to the particular good .
35. Robert W. Gomulkiewicz , The Implied Warranty of Merchantability in Software Contracts: A Warranty No One Dares to Give and How to Change That, 16 J. MARSHALL J. COMPUTER & INFO. L. 393 , 394 ( 1997 ).
36. Id .
37. Id .
38. William L. Prosser , The Implied Warranty of Merchantable Quality , 27 MINN. L. REV. 117 , 118 - 19 ( 1943 ).
39. See generally Ingrid Michelsen Hillinger, The Merchant in Section 2-314: Who Needs Him? , 34 HASTINGS L.J. 747 ( 1983 ).
40. The term “reasonable-buyer standard” was developed by this author and will be used throughout the remainder of this essay .
41. Franklin E. Crawford , Fit for Its Ordinary Purpose: Tobacco Litigation and the Implied Warranty of Merchantability, 63 OHIO ST . L.J. 1165 , 1168 ( 2002 ).
42. Ora Fred Harris , Jr. & Alphonse M. Squillante , 1 WARRANTY LAW IN TORT AND CONTRACT ACTIONS 179 ( 1989 ).
43. Id . at 180.
44. ( 1815 ) 171 Eng . Rep. 46 (K.B.).
54. See Part IV., infra.
55. William H. Lawrence & William H. Henning , UNDERSTANDING SALES AND LEASES OF GOODS 130 , (Matthew Bender ed., 1999 ).
56. U.C.C § 2 - 314 ( 2 ) ( 2003 ).
57. See Lawrence & Henning, supra note 55, at 130-35.
58. See U.C.C. § 2-313(1). An express warranty is created by “an affirmation of fact made by the seller to the buyer . . . .”
59. Frederick v. Dryer , 257 N.W. 2d 835 (S.D.N .Y. 1977 ). Real property is not governed by U.C.C. Article 2. The mobile home was deemed personal, not real property .
60. Valley Iron and Steel v. Thomas , 562 P.2d 1221 ( 1977 ).
61. Hayes v. Am. Co., 462 N.E. 2d 273 ( 1977 ).
62. Computerized Radiological Serv. v. Syntex Corp., 595 F. Supp 1495 (E.D.N .Y. 1984 ).
63. For a concise history of the U .C.C., see Uniform Commercial Code-History, available at http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/management/Tr-Z/UniformCommercial-Code. html (last visited Apr . 14 , 2007 ).