By Cliff Ennico
Q: "What are the rules when it comes to selling trademarked or branded items, such as Gucci handbags or Tiffany jewelry, on eBay?"
A: eBay's rules about trademarked items are simple to state, but difficult as the Dickens to apply in practice. Even experienced eBay sellers make mistakes in this area. The rules are basically these:
- You cannot sell knockoff or counterfeit items on eBay - never, ever, ever, world without end, Amen.
- It's up to you to determine if an item is genuine or not.
- eBay won't help you determine if an item is genuine or not.
- If the manufacturer or owner of the brand or trademark wants your listing terminated because they think you are not selling genuine merchandise, even if you are, eBay will shut down your listing and, for repeated violations, kick you off of eBay.
- You cannot hold yourself out as an authorized reseller of a manufacturer unless you truly are one.
- If you have questions about whether an item is genuine or not, eBay wants you to talk directly to the "rights owner" or manufacturer about it, and has set up a program called VeRo (for "Verified Rights Owner") to help you do just that.
Details of eBay's VeRo program can be found here. Many leading manufacturers participate in eBay's VeRo program, but offer little guidance to eBay sellers in determining whether an item is genuine or not. When you click on a manufacturer's "About Me" page in the VeRo section of eBay's website, many just repeat eBay's rules about not selling counterfeit or knockoff items with their brand names and trademarks on them, and warn you of the perils of doing so.
eBay does require participants in the VeRo program to give you an e-mail address where you can ask questions about their merchandise, but don't hold your breath waiting for your e-mail messages to be answered. There are some very good business reasons why manufacturers and brand owners won't go out of their way to help you sell their merchandise on eBay, among them the following:
- Many luxury-goods makers view eBay as a liquidation or "flea market" venue, and do not want their brands sold there under any circumstances for fear of tainting their brands' marketing image.
- Many manufacturers want to protect their distribution channels from low-cost competition from eBay sellers.
- Many manufacturers, especially of luxury goods, do not want to see an aftermarket in used (but genuine) merchandise competing with their new high-margin offerings.
- Many manufacturers want to avoid lawsuits and negative publicity from buyers who are angry with their eBay purchases (because of irresponsible or inexperienced sellers) and claim that the manufacturers have "aided and abetted" the eBay seller's actions.by encouraging sales on eBay.
There are also some very good business reasons why eBay won't do more to help you sell branded merchandise on the site:
- eBay views itself as a "marketplace" or "platform" on which transactions take place, and is legitimately concerned about jeopardizing its "neutral" status by taking sides between sellers and trademark owners.
- eBay is petrified (and rightly so) by the prospect of being sued by powerful Fortune 500 corporations (such as the parent corporations of Gucci's and Tiffany's) with deep pockets and big-name law firms behind them, and will bend over backwards to avoid offending these companies.
To begin your education on eBay's brand-name merchandise policies, begin with eBay's "Guidelines for Creating Legally Compliant Listings". Then take eBay's "tutorial on Intellectual Property Policies and VeRO" (there's a link to that on the above page, but you will have to sign in using your eBay User ID and password to take the tutorial). Finally, review eBay's VeRO page and read the "frequently asked questions" that are posted here. You now know as much as anyone does about selling brand-name merchandise on eBay.
The bottom line is that when you sell brand-name merchandise on eBay without the manufacturer's permission or authorization, you are taking a risk, and will have to expect that occasionally eBay will terminate one of your listings even if you are convinced that the item is genuine. If you bought the item yourself, post a photo of your purchase receipt on your eBay listing (blacking out any personal information, of course). And remember . . . if a deal seems "too good to be true", it probably is. That "genuine Gucci handbag" you bought from a store in a back alley of Rome for 50 Euros (about $69) is almost certainly not genuine - don't even think about selling it on eBay!
), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of "The Crowdfunding Handbook
," "Small Business Survival Guide
," "The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book
" and 15 other books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.