Caveat Emptor


The common law principle of ‘caveat emptor, qui ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emitveat emptor’ – in short, caveat emptor (or ‘buyer beware’) – translates literally to:

“let a purchaser, who ought not be ignorant of the amount and nature of the interest which he is about to buy, exercise proper caution”.

Thus it serves as a tacitwarning to the buyers that the sellers are not bound to volunteer negative information about the items they are selling.

In the Middle Ages, The doctrine was premised on the purchasers’ ability to discover and protect himself from defects in an item (originally and primarily land) through prior inspection, since the quality of the land took precedence over the quality of the structures of the land.

Furthermore, it was assumed that the vendor and purchaser were of equal bargaining positions and engaged in arm’s-length transactions, and that the buyer therefore did not need special protection.

In recent times, however, the notion that vendors and purchasers have equality in bargaining power has seen both judicial and legislative challenge in most International jurisdictions.

Many countries have enacted “misleading conduct and deceptive trade practices”-type legislation that in theory makes it illegal for companies to attempt to deceive consumers. However, the majority of cases brought under this style of legislation come from competitors to the companies, not consumers.

The reason for this is obvious – the enormous cost of litigation far outweighs the damage caused by the deception in relation to consumer goods. Even invoking the “small claims” provisions almost always available to consumers requires substantial time and sometimes fees.

Consumers are left with a like-it or lump-it world.

The growth in internet purchasing and marketing has also made it easier for companies to deceive consumers, and the lack of practical legal solutions lets them get away with it.

But the legal development of “safe harbor” legislation in relation to user-driven internet sites like forums and blogs has also opened an opportunity for aggrieved consumers to shoot some barbs of their own cheaply and annonymously, perhaps causing enough discomfort to change corporate behavior in some cases.

“Safe harbors” protect ISPs and website administrators from penalties for the posts of their users. As long as the website is not effectively eliciting illegal material, it is immune from the normal consequences of publishing defamatory material.

This allows websites like to provide a forum for disgruntled consumers to post their factual experiences with companies and products, along with photos, videos or other evidence, to try to get the attention of the company in question.

Normally, it is very hard for a company to have a critical, or even defamatory, post removed from a public forum. The writer is normally anonymous and the website admin is happy to have such controversial posts. For instance, many small businesses have tried for months in vain to get TripAdvisor to remove bad restaurant and accommodation reviews. There are very many damaging reviews still there.

In response, goes straight to the heart of the matter – allowing its users to “smear” companies for bad service or products, and only removing the posts for a fee – which is shared with the poster.

While many consumer complaints sites have been established over the past 10 years, is the first that distributes the revenue to the consumer and allows any complaint to be commercially removed for a flat fee.

Whether this tool proves popular enough to concern the deceiver companies is yet to be seen – but it is nice to know if you have a real complaint there is somewhere you can air it with the chance of a reward at the end.

For more information, go to

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