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Copyright 102 for Online Sellers

A look at how marketplaces handle copyright and infringement claims

Editor’s note: The information provided here is for educational purposes, and though The Online Seller did its best to make it as accurate as possible, this should not be taken as legal advice. Sellers should consult an attorney if they have questions about copyright laws.

In Copyright 101 for Online Sellers, we introduced you to copyright law and copyright infringement. Cliff Ennico, an attorney and eBay expert, reminds us that it’s important to keep copyright law in mind when you create listings. He notes that you should resist the temptation to use others’ text or photos.

If you use a photo or description without the permission of the originator, “Most of the time, people won’t complain because they don’t have the money to launch an expensive and time-consuming infringement suit,” he notes in our last article. “But if you are ripping off someone who is a lot bigger than you (for example, a luxury brand such as Tiffany’s or Louis Vuitton), you are almost certain to hear from their attorneys, who will also notify eBay, Amazon and wherever else you are selling of your infringement.”

Read on to see how eBay, Bonanza and Etsy handle copyright infringement, and how you can report violations if you notice that someone’s using your content without your permission.

Copyright on eBay

Marketplaces will likely have policies that prohibit infringing on someone else’s copyright, or using another seller’s image or listing without his or her permission. eBay’s Images and Text Policy states: “eBay members are not allowed to use images, including photos and other pictures or text they didn’t create themselves.”

The only exception to this is if the seller who creates the original work—the copyright owner—gives someone else permission to use the content.

“Many times, a seller may not even be aware that they are doing anything wrong. This is especially true with smaller, hobby sellers”

eBay adds that it is also against its policies to take photos from other websites and include them in listings without permission. If someone violates these rules, and the violation is brought to eBay’s attention, eBay could suspend the violator’s account.

If you think someone has used your work, you can report it through eBay’s Customer Support. You’ll then need to provide eBay with an item number from your account that shows you created the initial text or image.

If you’re reporting a text violation, eBay notes that the violation must be in the description.

“Because of the limited space in which to describe items, some similarity will occur between titles and subtitles for the same merchandise, so we won’t typically remove a listing for similar text in these areas,” the guidelines state.

Copyright on Bonanza

eBay doesn’t allow listings that infringe on someone’s copyright, and neither do marketplaces like Bonanza and Etsy.

“Many times, a seller [who is infringing another’s copyright] may not even be aware that they are doing anything wrong,” notes Mark Dorsey, co-founder of Bonanza. “This is especially true with smaller, hobby sellers.”

Dorsey notes that if sellers think a description or photo has been used without their permission, they can report it by clicking on the “Report Violation” link users will find on every Bonanza listing. Reports should include a link to the original listing, he adds, as well as a description of what the violation is. Then the Bonanza team will review the listing.

“We have a rule to assume the best of all of our community members when reviewing such reports,” he continues. “Most of the time, it involves reaching out to the reported seller and educating them.”

However, if a seller is consistently reported for violations, Bonanza will suggest other sites that may work better for them (though Dorsey didn’t say which sites these might be), and remove any of the sellers’ listings that violate policies.

Copyright on Etsy

Etsy’s in-house attorney Sarah Feingold says that when someone uses Etsy, they agree to comply with the marketplace’s Terms of Use and its Copyright and Intellectual Property Policy.

“Etsy’s Terms of Use contains a clause that specifies that material posted on Etsy must not infringe on any third party’s copyright,” she adds.

“Peace of mind more than compensates for the few extra minutes of time it takes to come up with something original”

Feingold notes that answering the question of what Etsy sellers should do if they think someone has used their descriptions or photos without permission is hard to answer.

“An allegation of infringement can have serious consequences to both the alleged copier and the person making the accusation,” she explains. “So for questions, the seller may want to speak with an attorney. Alternatively, the seller could ignore the issue, the seller could reach out to the other party and try to resolve the issue, or the seller could choose to contact Etsy.”

If sellers report a complaint to Etsy, they need to provide Etsy with six things, the marketplace’s Copyright and Intellectual Property Policy reports. These are:

  • A physical and/or electronic signature from the person whose copyright has been infringed upon, or a person who has been authorized to act on the person’s behalf
  • Notice of what is being infringed upon
  • ID of the item(s) that is doing the alleged infringement
  • Contact information of the person making the complaint
  • A statement noting that the person making the complaint knows to the best of his or her knowledge that the allegedly infringing person is not allowed to use the copyrighted material
  • And a statement “made under penalty of perjury” that the information provided is accurate.

If someone is found to be infringing on another’s intellectual properties, Etsy may remove listings that violate policy, and may stop service to repeat offenders, Feingold tells us, adding that Etsy will attempt to contact the seller if this happens.

You can avoid having to go through any of this simply by creating your own text and images.

“It really isn’t that hard… and the peace of mind more than compensates for the few extra minutes of time it takes to come up with something original,” Ennico says.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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