Although each MLM company dictates its own specific financial compensation plan for the payout of any earnings to their respective participants, the common feature that is found across all MLMs is that the compensation plans theoretically pay out to participants only from two potential revenue streams. The first is paid out from commissions of sales made by the participants directly to their own retail customers. The second is paid out from commissions based upon the sales made by other distributors below the participant who have recruited those other participants into the MLM; in the organizational hierarchy of MLMs, these participants are referred to as one's down line distributors.[5]
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The legal distinction between MLMs and traditional pyramid schemes has been characterized by many authorities as a legal fiction. Jurisdictions that retain a legal distinction between MLM pyramid businesses versus illegal pyramid schemes retain said distinction on two key distinguishing features: 1) that MLMs always encompass the sale of actual products/services, while traditional illegal pyramid schemes ordinarily do not (though sometimes they do), and 2) that climbing an MLM pyramid is overwhelmingly statistically improbable (especially to its highest participant levels) but not theoretically impossible, whereas climbing a traditional illegal pyramid scheme is both statistically and theoretically impossible.[citation needed]
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