On eBay, It Isn't Always What It Says It Is

from the you-just-realized? dept

theodp writes “Selling knockoffs isn’t just for Times Square anymore. The NY Times reports that smaller eBay buyers and sellers are grumbling about the abundance of counterfeit pieces, and Tiffany has filed a lawsuit accusing eBay of facilitating counterfeiting, finding that three out of four ‘Tiffany’ pieces they secretly purchased on eBay were fakes. The Tiffany case threatens eBay’s very business model, since it would be nearly impossible to police a site with 180M members and 60M items for sale.” The article is actually really one-sided. There’s a serious legal question concerning whether or not eBay has legal responsibility — and, so far, the law is pretty clear that they don’t. They’re just the service provider and shouldn’t have responsibility. The responsibility should fall on the sellers who are falsely advertising products. The law is pretty clear on that. However, from a PR standpoint, it would make sense for eBay to come up with a better solution for policing their own sellers. Another thought is that this should open up more opportunities for others to provide certification services for certain products. Either way, the idea that this is eBay’s fault is simply shifting the blame to the easier, but not accurate, target.

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Comments on “On eBay, It Isn't Always What It Says It Is”

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Paul says:

No Subject Given

Ebay is not legally responsible for users selling counterfeit items.

It would be like buying a fake rolex at a flea market and then sueing the owners of the property that the flea market was held on.
Or buying a fake rolex from a shady looking guy on the street, then sueing the city of New York for allowing this man to sell fake rolexes on city property.

What a company like Tiffany might be able to do is get Ebay to dissalow all auctions containing their products via word filters.

Ivory Bill says:

Re: No Subject Given

Flea market may not be the best comparison — eBay is nominally an auction.

When one goes to a sit-down auction (say at Butterfield and Butterfield, an Ebay subsidiary), the price includes a commission to the auction house. The auction house earns it commission by not only providing the physical auction, but by attesting to the provenance of the item being sold (i.e. authenticity and legitimacy of title). This has long been the case in the auction business — few would buy anything at auction if the auction house didn’t sign off on the goods.

In the case of an eBay auction, eBay accepts a nice commission, but does not attest to the objects being sold.

Admittedly, it would be impossible for eBay to study each item it auctions, but this is the issue — is eBay an auction house? Or is it a flea market?

Stephen Tillman (profile) says:

Shouldn't some of it rest on the buyer?

Tiffany… on ebay? I mean come on. Aren’t these buyers at least a little wary of what they’re buying?

Sure, my ebay status is in the low 30’s, which means I haven’t doen a whole lot of transactions. But I do have the common sense that buying something from someone I’ve never met, from whom I can’t get that face-to-face feel, and who doesn’t offer any kind of certification for thier items… yeah, i’m going to be just a bit hesitant about that.

As far as ebay’s responsibility… I think we’re mostly on the right track here. They’re not really an auction house… and even if they were, it’s not the auction house’s responsibility to guarantee the authenticy of the items that are sold through them. They usually do authenticate items, but it’s a service they do for PR purposes and for reputation.

Let’s face it, ebay isn’t supposed to be the place to procure original runs of fine art or first prints of rare books… it’s more of a seller’s tool than a buyer’s. I’v always been of the impression that ebay is the place to go sell things; not a place to go find those rare things to buy.

Ebay: where “Caveat Emptor” is alive and well.

Jonathon says:

No Subject Given

So I am in the process of dealing with returning fake watches bought on eBay. The seller that i bought from had a rating of 100, with 100%. He had sold watches before without any problems. I have talked with him pretty extensivly and at least his story is that his supplier gave him the real stuff first, and now gave him fakes. So, he is in the process of trying to track down his supplier. The world of online auctions can be a risky one. Even doing your research on a seller can still end up bad. Despite my bad experince, I will continue to buy and sell online. The benefits of having at minimum a national market far outweighs the cost of trying to sell locally, IMO.

Rob says:

A serious legal question?

There’s a serious legal question concerning whether or not eBay has legal responsibility — and, so far, the law is pretty clear that they don’t.

How is it a “serious legal question” if “the law is pretty clear”? This is obviously an obscure definition of “legal question” about which I was previously unaware.

Michael says:

No Subject Given

I would agree that Ebay represents the “flee market” model. They’re providing a valuable service in giving people a way to connect with buyers. Yes, they charge a commission, but they clearly state what that commission is for. They do not state that it goes toward evaluating authenticity, nor does should buyer expect such a service. The commission goes toward the infrastructure costs of sustaining the business, nothing more. And that is the basis for which customers must judge the value being provided for their money.

We cater too much today to ignorance. What we really need is an educated population capable of intelligent evaluation of a commercial service and capable of basic common sense and reason.

Yes, people will always try to break the law, and yes, we need a government capable of doing something about it, less we crumble into anarchy. Lawsuits exist for a reason, and I’m not saying everyone should be without government aid in such situations, but with the aforementioned properly educated populace, we could restrict the kind of lawsuits that seem only possible because of our need to protet the ignorant, and simply laugh at the dumbasses buying Tiffany products at a pseudo-anonymous online auction site with no means of physically inspecting the item, for that’s what they are.

Cater to the weak, and that is exactly what you become. Strengthen the weak into educated, self-enabling, rational citizens of a nation of power, and such rediculousness will become just that… rediculous.

Michael says:

Re: Re: No Subject Given

Because people will bare it. Or more specifically, the kind of people making that much profit will bare it for the convenience.

But it’s a good point. One could argue that it’s for the additional liability placed on ebay for hosting such items. That could be true. And that would tie into the Tiffany case in a round-about way.

But I think it’s mostly just because there are people who will pay it.

Chris Maresca (user link) says:

It's even worse...

There are a lot of outright fake auctions. Another forum I watch pretty consistently turned up a fake car auction for a car that was actually being sold at autotrader.com by someone else (and for a lot more).

The seller had a lot of feedback (over 300) with a lot of positives. People in the forum figured out it was a fake auction because the description didn’t match the car shown (you would have had to have known the model in depth to know that it was wrong), and the seller wasn’t responding to questions or correcting the description. Apparently the account had been hacked, probably through phishing.

If eBay doesn’t do something to stop both fake auctions and fake merchandise, it’s going to be more and more difficult for anyone to trust anything on their site. Hopefully that will actually open up a space for a competitor to slip into.


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