Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Wed May 22 2013 20:44:43

What Can Online Merchants Do About Listing Theft?

By: Ina Steiner

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Often online sellers spend a lot of time taking photos, writing descriptions and presenting their listings carefully in order to entice buyers, a wise investment to differentiate their listings from other sellers.

But unfortunately "competitors" can steal components of their listings and use them in their own listings, one of the reasons why you see a lot of sellers watermark their photographs.

I received a letter from a distressed eBay seller  recently who said she works hard on servicing her sewing machines, taking lots of pictures, and working very hard to come up with accurate descriptions of the machines.

"I just had a very hard to find machine listed - within a half hour, someone posted one like it - using my exact wording! She copied and pasted - changing the pertinent details, but using my description word for word. Her auction ended 25 minutes after mine and ended up bringing over 100 dollars more than mine - using MY description!!"

I'm sure readers can relate to how frustrating that is, especially when it happens on marketplace websites who are hesitant to get involved in such matters.

"I reported it to eBay when they had 4 days left to remove her listing," she continued. "They did nothing! eBay is no help whatsoever!!"

Sellers can join eBay's VeRO program to help protect their intellectual property, but it often proves unsatisfactory to small sellers who lack the legal resources to fight these battles.

It's important to note that while this problem became a major issue first on eBay, other marketplaces are not immune, including Etsy.

Do you have any war stories, and better yet, any tips to help sellers deal with these issues?




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Readers Comments

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ric

Wed May 22 21:50:51 2013

On eBay, listing enforcement is close to zero.

Sure, eBay has a report item link on every listing, however, the staffing which reviews these reports is grossly insufficient to handle the volume of violations reported.

We recently found a buyer who copied our entire listing including photos. They copied the listing description word for word, including a link to our eBay store. They cropped the photo to eliminate the watermark.

The seller was auctioning their widget and had placed a 7 day listing duration for their auction.

Day one, we reported the listing using the report item link. Nothing happened.

Day two, the listing was still up and running. We contacted eBay customer service, gave them the listing number and pointed out the seller had included a live link to our eBay store. The CS agent confirmed the listing was a violation, allegedly filed a report and indicated that the listing would be reported for further action. We asked the CSA for the reference number for our conversation and wrote it down.

Day three the listing was still up.

Day four, with the listing still up, we filed another report using the report item link.

Day five, the listing was still up and running, we filed a third report using the report item link.

Day six... We had reported the listing using the report item link twice, and called eBay customer service once and despite our efforts the listing was still running.

We called eBay customer service again, gave the CSA the Customer Service reference number from our original call, and explained that the listing which was confirmed to be a violation had not been taken down as promised. We explained that the listing copied our photo and our complete listing description including a link to our store.

The CSA reviewed the listing, spoke to a supervisor, and then connected us to Trust and Safety. The T & S CSA reviewed the details, apologized for the failure to act and assured us action was taken down.

The listing was finally removed late on day six.

If we were not persistent in following up, and if we did not have the reference number from our original call, I believe the listing would have run it's full course with no action taken by eBay.

Sellers deserve better than to be told that eBay staffing is insufficient to handle the volume of reported listings for various violations.

Like everything else eBay does, they assure sellers policies will be enforced, then the company fails to sufficiently staff the various departments that are charged with enforcing policy.

eBay obviously makes no money when listings are taken down. I suspect that eBay deliberately under staffs the enforcement department so that even though listings are in violation of eBay policy, they run their course in the hopes those listings will close with a sale to generate the desperately needed Final Value Fees.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed May 22 22:35:46 2013

I've had lots of experience with this issue in my decade plus of selling on ebafia.

Ebforcement is a hit and miss proposition so I first a polite cease and desist email to the seller to immediately remove the listing for face legal consequences as my descriptions and photos are copyrighted including a caveat against plagiarism.

If the lisitng isn't removed with 24 hours, I call ebafia every 12 hours until it is PLUS send the offending letter that legal action will commence within the week if their listing isn't ended.

This has worked well. The typical response is that the seller claims didn't "know" plagiarism is a form of theft.

And why not turn ebafia's anti seller policies against these lazy sleazeballs by buying the item over and over and leaving negative feedback and 1 DSRs each time?

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed May 22 22:37:40 2013

The last sentence above should have read:

And why not turn ebafia's anti seller policies against these lazy sleazeballs by buying the item over and over, not paying for it, and immediately leaving negative feedback and 1 DSRs each time?

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by: Bloggo This user has validated their user name.

Wed May 22 23:19:32 2013

Some categories of material are generally not eligible for United States copyright protection. Your description of an item generally would fall into  this area.

Copyright Protection Is Not Offered To:

Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents.

Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ed Gadfly

Thu May 23 05:00:13 2013

When it comes to eBay, ''You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.''

You can go cry to Uncle Grief or you can make the thieves cry.

''Loose lips sink ships.''  Remember, if you tell stories before the statute of limitations expires, you might be prosecuted.  

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by: RCL This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 23 10:01:48 2013

eBay's failure to act makes them complicit in the wrongdoing. It cost this one seller $100. WHAT CAN WE DO to make eBay take responsibility in protecting sellers from this abuse????  

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by: RCL This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 23 10:03:37 2013

PS Ebay directs its entire support group to promote COMPLIANCE with eBay policies (I was told that TWICE). It does little in the way of enforcement for seller protection.

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This user has validated their user name. by: elpereles
Web Site

Thu May 23 10:53:18 2013

I found a lot of sellers in eBay and 1 or 2 in Amazon using my photos to sell their stuff.

In eBay, I reported more than 5 sellers and only see 1 that the auction was closed. eBay don't care too much abut the issue. In special when one of the requirement to report the issue is that your items must be posted in eBay. So this kind of sellers feel free from stealing photos from other sellers.

For the record. I don't have problem if somebody wants to use my photos for ''collectible'' or ''educational'' reference, but I don't support using my photos to sell their stuff. I take my time shooting and editing.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: elpereles
Web Site

Thu May 23 11:00:17 2013

Example of sellers taking photos:

http://elpereles.ecrater.com/p/14233674/amalgam-fleer-s
kybox-1996-canvas-card

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Marvel-DC-Amalgam-Complete-9-Card-Canvas-Set-PACK-FRESH-/190749027247?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2c69872baf

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This user has validated their user name. by: elpereles

Thu May 23 11:07:07 2013

Took from a review in my blog. Other example :

http://elperelestradingcards.blogspot.com/2010/11/dc-versus-m
arvel-fleerskybox-1995.html

http://www.amazon.com/Versus-Marvel-Comics-Trading-Complete/dp/B004YD1ETA/ref=sr_1_17?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1369321406&sr=1-17

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by: Steevo This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 23 17:25:01 2013

What surprises me nowadays is all the listings that have essentially no description.  Lots and lots like that.

A few pictures taken with a cellphone and ebay mobile, a line or two saying a few words, nothing there at all.  

My listings more like tell a story. A real HTML page with pictures loaded from a server, description and narrative about the item in captions and pointing out any scratches or defects.

BTW, now I have to upload the pictures to ebay as well as on our server, or they complain.  I had to make my pictures too big and that causes horizontal scrolling unless I set the displayed size, which is not a good solution since it takes extra time to load a page with the picture size ebay is insisting on now- even if it won't be displayed.  I used to use optimized pictures in an appropriate size.

I can't imagine anyone would want to zoom in and inspect that load balancer or network switch.  They don't need that size picture, but ebay makes us use them.

It's amazing all the listings with *nothing* in the description now.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Thu May 23 17:34:35 2013

Steevo says ''It's amazing all the listings with *nothing* in the description now''

That amazes me too, along with the fact that if you ask a question about the mystery item, more often than not you get *nothing* in reply!  

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by: COH This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 23 18:26:49 2013

When you use the "Sell one like this" on someone else's item, does it duplicte the other person's listing?  I have never used that option, so I don't know.  I hate that option in any event.

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This user has validated their user name. by: iheartjacksparrow

Thu May 23 20:09:16 2013

Steevo says: "What surprises me nowadays is all the listings that have essentially no description."

I've seen lots of those. 'Purple widget. Sent from my iPhone.'

Why even bother with a description if that's all you're going write.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Marie

Thu May 23 20:59:04 2013

I think that no description or very little description thing happens a lot with those that are listing with their phones.  Not sure, but I read that somewhere.

What is interesting is hearing sellers that don't take the time to adequately describe their items or even tell the buyers what the payment terms are or any other terms the seller may have.  Then the sellers complain because the buyers aren't paying fast enough or complain about other stuff.  They need to slow down and learn the ropes, at least the basic ones.  But I agree with the others here, these no descriptions of very small descriptions seen to be happening more and more.

As to the concerns of the OP.  Ebay has all these lovely ways for us to report various problems, but then ebay will do nothing but file the reports in the trash.  I've reported buyers, somewhere around 72+ hrs later I get a canned response that literally says we have not read your email. If you want or need assistance call.  Reporting other sellers for problems is even less fruitful.  For those, I just never hear anything.  And Ebay never has closed a listing or stopped a seller from whatever policy violation I was reporting.  EVER!  And some were extremely obvious.  So Ebay talks a good game and will tell everyone how much they do about these reports, but the reality is quite different.

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by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 23 21:57:18 2013

I don't think a lot of people understand that part of Ebay's philosophy is the sharing of information on items. Amazon has pioneered the one description and photo fits all. I am not happy that others take my photos, nor do I like the fact that Ebay sells my photos to others, but that the breaks when selling online. We either fly with the lead goose or we fall behind.  

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by: Heidi This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 23 22:01:07 2013

I have had eBay remove my listings for using the word Onesie instead of the word bodysuit to describe an infant top. Apparently, Gerber owns the rights to the word Onesie!

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Thu May 23 22:04:26 2013

@ Bloggo

What you cited is accurate, but any seller who writes a unique, original item description for a unique item is covered.

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by: Cloud This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 23 22:09:57 2013

Can't say I blame those sellers that don't write a description since buyers rarely bother to read them. I've sometimes asked myself why I'm going through all the trouble.  

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by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 23 22:47:04 2013

I sell a fairly unique item for a very specific make and model of motorcycle--and I am as far as I can tell now the ONLY seller of this item WORLDWIDE--and certainly the ONLY one who promotes that I WILL ship worldwide on ebay.

Last year after taking many pictures of MY BIKE with this item installed--and our unique windscreen visible in the pics--I listed them on ebay.

One night as my husband was scrolling thru items for sale for this bike he noticed that MY PHOTOS had been STOLEN by another seller.  

This person ALSO had a LIVE LINK to their emai;  their PHONE NUMBER;  and if I remember right other info that was NOT supossed to be on an ebay listing.

I wrote to the guy that minute and he claimed he didn't KNOW it was WRONG to STEAL images.  He then CROPPED the pics but you could STILL clearly SEE our windscreen.  I then CALLED EBAY to complain about this;  I also used the on-line list to complain about several of these violations.  The listing remained up.

Several fellow ebay sellers ALSO filed against this guy to help me out.  No action was taken.

I called EVERY DAY after this and yes the CSR's agreed--these WERE my images and the guy WAS in violation with the links etc.   And Oh yes of course they would have this REMOVED right away and T&S would get right on it.

Really?

We took down our listing and watermarked--across the center of the item--and put the listing back.  I TRIED to add in a LINK to MY email  and the bots kicked it off!

I again called ebay as the thieving seller was STILL using my pics.  And I got the SAME run around.

I then wrote to the seller AGAIN and told them that I had an appointment to see our local Judge about this--and that I ALSO knew who he WAS and WHERE he lived AND that a bunch of biker guys were NOT happy with him---- as it turned out that he had ALSO stolen a number of images of these guys bikes off of a single-bike-specific Web site.  

And they had COMPLAINED to ebay---over and over.

He was representing these guys bikes as his--and doing the SAME thing with mine.

I offered to do a Face Talk with the CSR and show ME and MY BIKE and the installed item along with my stock of the item offered for sale.

After this--and this took THREE WEEKS---the guy CHANGED his photo to another generic bike--that we could not ID but he doesn't OWN one so we know it is NOT his---And he added a harsh statement about ME and how I was BOTHERING HIM and daring to COMPETE and how people should CONTACT HIM and he would UNDERSELL me if he had to GIVE the items away!

I also reported AND called about this.  Nothing was done.

Now the guy has-- as far as we can tell--NEVER  actually SOLD more than one or two of these--but--ebay would not ever KNOW as he has SO MANY WAYS to be contacted OFF of ebay that of course NO sale is going to logged thru ebay--and so ebay is losing money on this guy.  

But--they chose to PROTECT him.

Ebay standing up for legit sellers--please don't make me LAUGH.

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