Sued For Libel Over eBay Feedback

from the truth-is-a-defense-against-libel... dept

There's been plenty of criticism over eBay's feedback system over the years, and recently the company famously stopped allowing sellers to give feedback, since many sellers were using it as a weapon to force buyers to give good feedback, or risk getting bad feedback themselves. However, the latest outrage over eBay's feedback system seems a bit silly. A seller in the UK is suing a buyer for libel for his eBay feedback.

In this case, the buyer bought a mobile phone, but was disappointed that the phone was beat up and not the model that was advertised. He complained to the seller, sent it back and asked for a refund -- which was given. However, he then posted feedback saying: "Item was scratched, chipped and not the model advertised on Mr Jones's eBay account." From the sound of things, this was accurate. The seller, unfortunately, seemed to think that because he refunded the purchase, that the feedback was now libelous. It's hard to see how he has much of a case (even in the UK where libel laws are much stricter). The feedback was accurate. The fact that the seller agreed to take back the phone and refund the difference doesn't change that.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Guy Fawkes, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 7:54am

    God...

    God Save the Queen... so we can sue her for libel!

     

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  2.  
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    Ima Fish, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 8:00am

    "even in the UK where libel laws are much stricter"

    This is merely semantics, but libel laws are more loose and easier to bring in the UK. In the US, because of that whole freedom of speech thing, libel laws are more difficult and strict for people bringing such claims.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 8:12am

    Re:

    I'm pretty sure he meant stricter from the accused's point of view, in that it's stricter on what can and can't be said. In the US, you can say a whole lot of anything without getting in trouble for it, so it's "looser" restrictions.

     

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  4.  
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    Jeffry Houser (profile), Oct 24th, 2008 @ 8:36am

    Did the Buyer say...

    I can understand why the seller would be upset by bad feedback. However, I'm not sure that feedback is libelous or worthy of a lawsuit.

    I always wonder about the stuff that isn't said in such articles.

    Can sellers still comment on feedback? If so, why didn't the seller do so, saying he was sorry for problems and provided a full refund?

    Can the seller still complain to eBay and try to remove feedback? Did the seller take that route?

    Did the buyer say anything like "seller provided full refund"? I think it would have been good for the buyer to say that in his feedback.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 8:37am

    RE

    You've got to be kidding me. Someone's feelings are hurt over the feedback that guy left what a freaking ashame. I wonder how much money is going to be spent and more importantly time wasted on this BS.

     

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  6.  
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    Michial, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 9:03am

    Sounds like seller is retaliating a different way

    EBay's feedback system has been flawed for years, and their recent changes are no different. At least the sellers are protected from the retaliatory stuff, but as you see the crappy sellers will just take it to a new level costing the buyers even more to defend against thier crap with little recourse for collecting the cost for defense.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward #42, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 9:20am

    If you send somebody something that was completely different than what you had advertised, you are either very stupid or running a scam, and you deserve any negative feedback you get. Period.

    I for one would make blame sure I don't misrepresent anything or send somebody the wrong item, and if I did, I would fully expect bad feedback. Seriously, how many honest, upright people are actually left in this world? I think eBay really needs to start enforcing their rules based on their feedback system. If somebody is getting repeated feedback with statements like "did not receive the item advertised", there needs to be consequences and an investigation.

     

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  8.  
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    Seamus McCauley (profile), Oct 24th, 2008 @ 9:37am

    Not a lawyer, but...even in the UK, fair comment is a solid defence against libel. Can't see how it can fail to get thrown out.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 10:27am

    Doesn't eBay permit sellers to post responses to negative feedback, or has that feature been eliminated as well?

     

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  10.  
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    sounds like a incomplete review, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 10:32am

    While the phone may have been junk, the seller did take back the product and refund the difference.
    I can understand why the seller is P'd.
    While the feed back is true, it is incomplete. Maybe it "should" say . "Item was scratched, chipped and not the model advertised on Mr. Jones' eBay account, but seller did take back phone, refunded money, although this was still a hassle and bad advertising."
    Its fine to give negative feed back, but at least give the whole story. The buyer is only getting a phone out of it, whereas the seller may depend on sales in order to eat.

    My 2 cents

     

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  11.  
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    Jesse, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 10:39am

    Though it certainly doesn't constitute libel, e-bay etiquette dictates that if there is a mistake and the mistake is rectified, that that should be noted in the feedback. You should only leave a negative feedback for the most extreme problems. Again, not libel though.

     

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  12.  
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    bubba, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 10:51am

    it was pretty nice feedback

    i have seen much worse. but in this case it was accurate and his comment will serve to help future buyers determine if they want to deal with this seller. just because they took it back and refunded it doesnt mean he shouldnt get negative feedback, otherwise they just put it back on ebay and wait for someone to buy it who won't go through all the trouble of complaining and sending it back. dont want bad feedback, then ACCURATELY describe your product and provide clear photos. this doesnt sound like a "mistake", a mistake is sending the wrong phone.

     

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  13.  
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    hegemon13, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 11:20am

    Unfortunate

    It is unfortunate that this example is a bogus claim. Feedback on ebay does clearly have an effect on a seller's ability to make money. So, for a comment that was actually false, belligerent, or otherwise libelous, I think that a libel lawsuit would be a perfectly fair response. If I publicly posted a restaurant review claiming that there were rat parts in my food when it wasn't true, I would be sued. Why should it be different because the business is an ebay business.

    Alas, though, this lawsuit is ridiculous because the feedback was accurate. I would much rather see the precedent for a legitimate libel case.

    As far as his feedback being incomplete, ebay only allows so many characters. The buyer has to choose what aspect of the sale was most important to highlight. If a seller fraudulently sold me something other than what was posted, you can bet I would leave negative feedback, refund or not. It leads to a huge hassle on my part. I hope the buyer counter-sues for legal expenses and damages.

     

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  14.  
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    TW Burger, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 11:54am

    Stupidity, greed, or pride?

    One thing is for certain: the seller has made certain that no one knowing of this libel suit will ever do business this person.

    The reason for the suit must be based on stupidity, greed, or pride. A business person would have ignored the feedback and changed procedures to insure the situation was not repeated.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 12:43pm

    Re:

    "Its fine to give negative feed back, but at least give the whole story. The buyer is only getting a phone out of it, whereas the seller may depend on sales in order to eat"

    So what? From the sounds of it the buyer hasn't done anything wrong, all he did was say the phone was damaged and the incorrect model.

    The buyer is under no legal, or moral obligation to vindicate the seller.

    If the seller wants to be successful, without scamming people, he shouldn't send broken phones to paying customers.

     

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  16.  
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    John, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 12:50pm

    Maybe it's eBay's fault...

    ... because they only allow so many characters in the review of an item. If you only have 255 characters, how can you write an entire sentence about how you got the wrong item, but you returned it, then got your money back in a timely manner, so you'd do business with the guy again, but other people should look out for receiving wrong items.

    Maybe situations like this wouldn't occur if eBay allowed unlimited-length reviews. Look at almost any item at Amazon: people leave paragraphs' worth of information.
    Doesn't this give customers a far better picture of the item than a short one-sentence description like "cool DVD"?

     

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  17.  
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    Val, Oct 24th, 2008 @ 2:04pm

    time seller feedback went away - feedback extortion

    It's about time eBay rid itself of the seller feedback system. I would have had hundreds more feedback points if I played by their rules, but didn't. As a buyer, I have completed my obligation by paying promptly and providing the correct information for shipping. I should have received seller feedback at that time. But on hundreds of purchases I was told by sellers that they would not leave feedback until I did. That wasn't my obligation. And even if I didn't leave favorable feedback, I should still get good feedback for paying on time. Good riddens.

     

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  18.  
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    Rose M. Welch, Oct 26th, 2008 @ 9:25pm

    Re: time seller feedback went away - feedback extortion

    As a buyer, I have completed my obligation by paying promptly and providing the correct information for shipping... And even if I didn't leave favorable feedback, I should still get good feedback for paying on time.

    If that were true, it would logically follow that the seller has completed their obligation by shipping you the correct item in the specified amount of time. However, if you believe that they should leave you good feedback for doing the minimum as a customer, then you should leave good feedback when they did the minimum as a seller.

    The buyer/seller relationship should go both ways.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 27th, 2008 @ 4:40am

    Re: Re: time seller feedback went away - feedback extortion

    The problem with your argument is that you have no way of knowing that they have fulfilled their part of the transaction until you receive the item you purchased.

    I have seen the same thing in nearly every auction I've won: the seller won't leave feedback until the buyer does. I actually had a situation where I paid for an item and the seller failed to ship it for nearly two months. It wasn't until I threatened to leave negative feedback for the transaction that I got a "sorry, I was sick, here's your purchase" email and received the item a few days later.

    The first thing I do before I bid on eBay is look at the seller's feedback rating. If they have a few thousand transactions and only one or two are negative I usually will ignore it. Particularly when the feedback came from a buyer who only had one or two transactions on their account. If the seller has an excess of negative feedback I will not buy from them.

     

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  20.  
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    Danny (profile), Oct 27th, 2008 @ 8:44am

    N of one

    My ebay purchase experience is an N of one; I am hardly an expert. I purchased a ladder from a vendor who clearly had a regular eBay business going.

    I initially had some customer service issues with him, but he then bent over backward to make sure my order was completed to my satisfaction. In doing so, he indirectly suggested to me that there was an implied social contract that if he provides good customer service I would turn around and give him a positive review.

    While I recognize that his rating is extremely important to his business, the trading of service for rating seemed a little seamly to me.

     

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  21.  
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    Captain, Oct 27th, 2008 @ 9:20am

    Re: Re: time seller feedback went away - feedback extortion

    I couldn't agree more. As a seller, as soon as the buyer pays for an item I immediately give them feedback because they held their end of the bargain. As a buyer, I use to get pissed off (not as much since I am going to stop selling on eBay) when I would immediately pay for an item and then the seller wouldn't leave me feedback until I received the product and left them positive feedback.

    Plus I am amazed at the amount of buyers that don't leave feedback even when I immediately gave them positive feedback after they paid for the item. I have sent many buyers e-mails asking them if they received the product, which I knew they did because we both had the tracking number, and if they were happy with their purchase. I sell brand new watches and typically ship the same day or within 24 hours and I offer free shipping for all of my watches. I am confident and stand behind my products that is why I am willing to immediately give feedback. If I sold a bogus watch to someone I would do the same thing because they held their end of the bargain, which is to pay for the item.

    Some may read this and say that entitlement is my problem but I call it common courtesy and

     

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  22.  
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    An ebay seller, Nov 5th, 2008 @ 12:00pm

    A sellers perspective

    "As a buyer, I have completed my obligation by paying promptly and providing the correct information for shipping. I should have received seller feedback at that time.

    This is not the case, think about it. Feedback should only be provided by both buyer & seller once the buyer has confirmed receipt of goods, is happy with merchandise, and all after-sales service, if necessary, has been provided. How does the seller know that the buyer is happy with the transaction unless the buyer communicates this? What better way for a buyer to confirm this than by leaving positive feedback?


    Additionally, ebay allows sellers to automatically leave reciprical positive feedback, meaning that whenever a buyer leaves a positive, they automatically receive one in return from the seller. For powersellers, rooting through individual transactions, and leaving individual positive comments, is time that could be much better spent on providing actual customer service.


    Ebay's feedback system has been a joke since it's inception, lately things have gotten worse for both buyers and sellers (particularly sellers as buyer can no longer receive negative feedback!) with the removal of the "mutual feedback withdrawal agreement" facility. This feature allowed buyer and seller to complete a short online form to remove any feedback comments which may have been left in haste, or through a simple misunderstanding. Without this feature, there is almost nothing a seller can do to have negative feedback removed from their account, even if the buyer accepts that the negative comment was unwarranted.


    Why is feedback so important to sellers?


    This seems obvious dosen't it? The answer is quite clearly that the seller may lose future sales as a result of negative feedback left on their account. Right? Well yes, partly. This is what's called an 'intangible effect', meaning that there is no actual way of measuring the effect the negative comment has on the sellers future sales performance. However there can be a tangible effect too. This comes in the form of the ebay powerseller program, which awards sellers discounts on fees (ranging from 20% - 40%) based upon sales levels and, crucially, customer service performance. Obviously, customer service performance is measured using the ebay feedback program, therefore negative feedback left for sellers for spurious reasons, in haste, as a result of a mis-understanding etc can have a tangible effect on the ebay sellers fees, should they happen to lose their discount as a result. This is'nt just about "Someone's feelings are hurt over the feedback that guy left what a freaking ashame.", many small and medium sized businesses operate on ebay, therefore to lose between a 20% - 40% discount on (expensive) fees is no small matter.

    Therefore, unless ebay's feedback system is yet again overhauled, it seems that a sellers only way to try and tackle negative feedback will be through the courts. In this case, the seller has not indicated any tangible losses, so we have to assume that he is looking to sue for intangible losses. Personally, while I too would be disappointed to receive negative feedback over a simple mistake which was later rectified, I find the sellers case a little lightweight for a courtroom, and can't see him winning anything. However, a court case where 'tangible losses' could be presented would be interesting to follow.


    Happy ebaying

     

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  23.  
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    DICK, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 2:54am

    RE THE ABOVE COMMENTS

    I agree that this looks like a very thin case & the faulty article should not have been sent in the first place as it was obviously mis-described.However I have also receieved a few totally uncalled for negative feedbacks since the system was altered.If a buyer bids up an item to a stupid amount & then is unhappy when the item is received although clearly & fairly described & pictured why should the seller have to refund & take the item back to avoid negative feedback? After all the Ebay auction is just that - an auction.In any other auction of second hand goods when the hammer falls it's yours,simple.No come back,no refund.No only that how do you know who the seller is.It could be a child (many are!!) They could be drunk,on drugs who knows.But the seller has no defence unless they take to the Law.Which I will do now in future until Ebay alters theit ridiculous & unfair system

     

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  24.  
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    mandy, Jan 17th, 2009 @ 10:01am

    can feedback remove

    can the eBay feedback can remove by any other way if buyer and seller both agree to??

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    jojokinkaid, Sep 4th, 2009 @ 12:04pm

    free new Ebay, PayPal, Ebay suspensions, PayPal limited, business and law forums

    There is a forum I found on the internet that is free, and helps with Ebay, PayPal, business and the law. Just post any question, the experts will answer it if it has not already been answered!

    Feedback removal is a heavy topic there.

    The forum has a lot of expert advice on it. http://www.modeeworld.com/forums I found advice there about how to avoid EBAY suspensions, get past PayPal limitations, also lots of detailed help on creating your own business, getting past trademark violations, VERO and lots more. Plus general advice on how best to sell on EBAY, what sells the best, how to get the best price for your product, really everything related to EBAY and internet business.

    Also advice about how EBAY really works and how PayPal really works. The inside scoop.

    Beautiful forum. I was made a moderator of the forum and I love it!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    small45, Mar 5th, 2011 @ 12:43pm

    I applaude this seller for filing suit

    I'm an ebay seller. Ebay used to list feedback & let buyers & sellers decide who they did or did not want to deal with. Now they sanction sellers, limiting their sales and search visibility.

    Some of the buyers are obnoxious. I've given full refunds, including shipping, without any discussion, negotiation and had buyers refuse to cancel transactions so I get ebay fees refunded. As far as I'm concerned, if you give a full refund there is no transaction on which to base a negative feedback. I say to this seller, rake this guy over the coals. Show him that if you make trouble for people they may make trouble for you. Win or lose you will help all ebay sellers. Wish I had the time & the money to do this myself. To all the buyers on this thread who think the buyer has been wronged - do you really think negative feedback is warranted when you get you get your money back? If so, I hope you get sued too.

     

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  27.  
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    small45, Mar 5th, 2011 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Did the Buyer say...

    The libel suit is just harassment, just like the negative feedback after getting your money back is harassment. Tit for tat.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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