Creative Ebay Resolutions

On Monday, I discussed the growing problem of Ebay-oriented plagiarism. While doing research for it, two things became clear. First, Ebay creates a set of very unusual challenges for copyright holders and, second, that it provides some unique possibilities for handling such matters.

Simply put, Ebay is not a typical environment for plagiarism. It is not a traditional host or service provider, it is an auction site and that changes the games. While many of the traditional tools still can work, such as DMCA notices, it also opens many new doors, including the VeRO system discussed in Monday's post.

While taking advantage of these new tools and rights can take a little bit of forethought and planning, it turns out that Ebay itself may be one of the greatest weapons in fighting plagiarism on the service.

Here are just a couple of ways to turn Ebay against plagiarists.

Negative Feedback

Ebay sellers live and die by their feedback rating and it only takes a handful of negative comments to ruin a seller's reputation. Given the nature of the Ebay comment system, if a seller isn't marked "A++++" by everyone that has bought from him, others are much less likely to buy from him or her.

Thus, it's relatively easy to sabotage a Ebay seller's financial plan by simply leaving enough negative feedback to make future sales nearly impossible. This is especially easy to do with new Ebay sellers, which many eBook plagiarists appear to be, since they have very little positive feedback to balance it.

The problem with leaving feedback is that one has to first buy the product in order to leave the comment. Needless to say, most copyright holders will not be happy about paying even a small sum for their own work just for the chance to leave a negative comment. Second, there is very little stopping an Ebay user from just closing up the username and starting fresh with a new account. It is frustrating and time consuming, but it does happen.

Still, users who accidentally buy plagiarized content should definitely use this feature if they learn of the infringement before they leave their feedback. Also, it is a potential technique for content creators, especially when the repackaged work is extremely inexpensive.

The Competing Auction

One of the ideas that came from my conversation with Ken "Caesar" Fisher, the editor of Ars Technica, is to simply create an auction of your own, but rather trying to sell the work, offer it for free, or rather, one cent. Theoretically, while Ebay would charge you a small fee to set up the auction, 20 cents per item, you would not incur any transaction costs or, if you did, they would be very insignificant. With approval from Ebay, one might even be able to link directly to the item itself, thus not requiring anyone to buy it (Note: I know very little about Ebay selling and Ebays guidelines made no direct mention of this, if anyone who is more familiar could help out I would be appreciative)

This could, in theory, take business away from the plagiarist by undercutting their price and offer additional promotion for you and your site.

Once again though, this method can create an additional burden on the plagiarism victim, forcing him to pay to protect their works, though this time Ebay receives the money, and requiring a moderate amount of effort. Despite that, it's a technique that many sites have used for promotional purposes and would consider doing anyway, plagiarism issues or not.


Ebay is not an ordinary host nor is it an ordinary Web site. Plagiarism on Ebay comes with its own challenges and its own opportunities, all unique to Ebay and sites like it.

Though most copyright holders will be better off using Ebay's widely-available VeRO program, others may still find some relief in the other nuances of the Ebay system and, if they partner with buyers that are frustrated about having to pay for what they could have gotten for free, can bring a wide range of weapons to bear against a plagiarist.

In the end, it's clear that Ebay has done a great deal to combat intellectual property theft on its site, most likely to ensure their own survival, and are pioneers in this area. However, this doesn't mean that plagiarism and other forms of content theft aren't rampant on Ebay.

Instead, it just means that copyright holders, especially those with content that might be vulnerable to Ebay plagiarism, need to be vigilant about the problem and knowledgeable about the tools available to resolve the incidents that arise.

In that regard, Ebay truly is no different than anywhere else.  

[tags]Plagiarism, Content Theft, eBook, Ebay, Copyright Infringement, Copyright[/tags]