Copyright Infringement and eBay - dummies

By Marsha Collier

If you list a potentially infringing item on eBay, you may be infringing on existing copyrights, trademarks, registrations, or the like, which can bring about legal action. Get the idea? eBay prohibits the listing of these items for your protection.

Items that fall under the “potentially infringing” category are generally copyrighted or trademarked items such as software, promotional items, and games. Even using a brand name in your auction as part of a description (known as keyword spamming) may get you into trouble.

Say you have a quilted leather women’s purse with a gold chain strap that you describe as a Chanel-style purse. Well you can expect an informational alert from the eBay listing police. Even though you described the item to the best of your ability, it became a potentially infringing item. Your use of the brand name Chanel causes your auction listing to violate the regulation against keyword spamming, which eBay describes as follows:

“Keyword spamming is the practice of adding words, including brand names, which do not directly describe the item you are selling. The addition of these words may not have been intentional, but including them in this manner diverts members to your listing inappropriately.”

Think twice before you add brand names to your auction description. Thankfully, the eBay police judge each violation on a case-by-case basis. If your record is clear of prior offenses, you might get away with a reprimand. However, had your violation been more deliberate, you might be suspended.

In addition, in your title, you may not use a brand name along with the words not or like. As in Chanel-like purse or not Chanel. This is also considered a violation of the keyword spamming policy.

Keyword spamming can take many forms. Some merely mislead the prospective bidder, whereas others are legal infringements. A few of the most common are

  • Superfluous brand names in the title or item description

  • Using something like “not brand X” in the title or item description

  • Improper trademark usage

  • Lists of keywords

  • Hidden text, for example, white text on a white background or hidden text in HTML code. The white text shows up in the search but is not visible to the naked eye. Sneaky, eh?

  • Drop-down boxes

Repeating various nontrademarked keywords can get you in trouble as well. eBay permits the use of as many as five synonyms when listing an item for sale. A permissible example of this might be purse, handbag, pocketbook, satchel, and bag. Adding many nontrademarked keywords would cause the auction to come up in more searches.

eBay can’t possibly check every auction for authenticity. But to help protect trademarked items, it formed the Verified Rights Owners (VeRO) program. Trademark and copyright owners expend large amounts of energy to develop and maintain control over the quality of their products. If you buy a “designer” purse from a guy on the street for $20, it’s probably counterfeit, so don’t go selling it on eBay. eBay works with VeRO program members to educate the community about such items. They work also with verified owners of trademarks and copyrights to remove auctions that infringe on their products. If eBay doesn’t close a suspicious or blatantly infringing auction, both you and eBay are liable for the violation.

To become a member of the VeRO program, the owners of copyrights and trademarks must supply eBay with proof of ownership. If you are a legitimate owner, and someone on the site has violated your rights, download the Notice of Infringement form.

eBay cooperates with law enforcement. Should you be a violator, they may give your name and street address to a VeRO program member.