Every day, you can find dozens of new auctions on eBay that infringe on copyright. While eBay does its best to aid rights owners, there is still room for improvement.
We, the creators of original works of literature, music, and video, address this open letter to eBay and CEO Tom Donahoe:
While the intentions of the VeRO program are commendable, the implementation of the program and support information for it are inadequate to the task eBay has set out to achieve. While we appreciate the steps eBay has taken to date and the willingness to aid us in prosecution of pirates on eBay, the system is far from perfect. To that end, we suggest the following additions and changes to the VeRO program.
Complaints about infringement should be allowed to be filed by anyone who finds it, eBay member or not. Many creators find it a nuisance to have an eBay account to effectively police infringement on eBay.
While eBay attests that it contacts rights owners when piracy is discovered, it can be assumed with confidence that eBay does not know who all rights owners and empowered parties are. A simple log-in for all rights owners and representative publishers, lawyers, or other agents would alleviate this problem. Having such a log-in would create a database with contact information of rights owners, allowing eBay to be more effective in such pursuits. Said database would ideally include: title, series (if applicable), author name/s, publisher name, whether the item is not permitted to be sold electronically at all or is not permitted to be offered for commercial use*, and two e-mail contacts for rights information/verification. Rights owners would be able to update all information as necessary, add new titles, and it would behoove them to do so. eBay representatives would have a ready means of contacting rights owners on hand.
Further, by entering information in the database, rights owners would be automatically entering a search feature to have new auctions containing any keywords from the author/creator, title, and series fields e-mailed to them on a daily basis. This would allow rights owners to find and respond to piracy more effectively.
To further aid in the prompt and decisive response to piracy on eBay, all bulk or collections of e-books or electronic media offered on eBay should be required (in the item description) to include all author/creator names and titles or series included on the collection. Failure to do so should be grounds for removal of the auction, by anyone making the complaint.
*Authors/creators sometimes offer a free read/piece of software to readers/users, with the stipulation that it may be passed for free or given away for free in a collection with a sale of another item but may not be sold, in any manner. Such items are often covered under Creative Commons or Open Source licensing. They are not permitted to be sold, even if the seller claims he/she is charging only for his/her own work in creating the CD version. Giving something away for free does not mean it’s not in violation of Copyright, Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or other infringements.
When collections of free e-books or other electronic media are given away with another purchase, the author/creator names and titles or series should likewise be required to be included in the item description. Failure to do so should be grounds for removal of the auction, by anyone making the complaint.
Unless an eBay seller is selling his/her own creations, any auctions or sales of e-books or electronic media claiming to be selling “resale rights” should be automatically terminated. Since authors and other creators do not routinely sell these rights, the chances that the claim is true are nearly non-existent. Allowing this claim on auctions makes buyers believe they have the right to also sell the works, leading to a domino effect of piracy believed to be legitimate by many of those involved.
Another major overhaul would ideally come in the way eBay deals with infringing auctions. We would highly suggest the following steps.
Infringement reports on an auction should show as negative points on the seller’s rating. Any positive comments on infringing auctions (including former auctions that match the current one) should be removed and the points the buyers gave the seller removed. If that means the seller loses status awards, that is what should rightly happen. Allowing sellers to profit, in money or in status, from piracy only encourages it to continue. There must be a price for illegal activity.
There should be a firm line that eBay adheres to that includes something like: three unique infringement complaints results in moderated listings and five in the seller being banned from eBay. Whatever lines eBay deems correct, they should be strictly enforced, no matter what positive ratings the seller has on other auctions or how popular said seller is.
Relisting an infringing auction should automatically count as more than one point against the seller, as it shows intent to defraud or to infringe, despite fair warning.
At the moment, it appears to be a conflict of interest that eBay profits from the listing fees and PayPal fees for auctions of pirated goods. As a suggestion, to win good will with the wronged creators and to remove all appearance of conflict of interest, we suggest that eBay donate fees from infringing auctions to literacy groups. Since many of the infringing auctions are bulk/collection, and there is no way to split that money among the injured authors/creators, literacy education is an ideal beneficiary to benefit from such piracy. In any case, legitimate infringement should not have fees returned to the seller.
Finally, a separate tutorial needs to be created that specifically addresses e-books vs. print books. The current one does not cover DMCA, illegal copying and distribution, non-commercial vs. commercial uses, and so forth. eBay pirates routinely misuse terms such as resale rights, public domain, and more.
We thank Mr. Donahoe for his time and attention and hope that eBay and rights owners can embark upon a long and mutually-beneficial partnership in the future.
The Open Letter to eBay and CEO about VeRO Improvements petition to eBay was written by Brenna Lyons and is in the category Internet at GoPetition.