Vero to zero in one eBay step

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Nici Smith has been trading on eBay for more than three years, running a successful shop selling gifts, gadgets and novelty items. Then, overnight, everything she had worked so hard to build was taken away from her – by an eBay program supposed to fight fraud and fakes.

On December 13th 2006 my eBay business gadgets-and-gifts-uk was shut down overnight by the VeRO department at eBay for a trademark infringement. The company who had challenged my business was based in America, and the infringement? Well, that would be an alleged breech of copyright over a light shaped like a part-melted ice cube.

After shaking, crying, ranting and raving, I eventually calmed down and took matters in hand. Thankfully I am a member of the Federation of Small Businesses so I was able to use their free legal advice line to assist.

The rights owner was, in all fairness, very helpful; he was horrified that his VeRO infringement notices had closed my business during the busiest trading week of the year . He had only wanted the offending listings to be removed. So he employed his UK lawyer to contact VeRO to try and sort the situation out. The lawyer wrote urgent e-mails to VeRO to no avail, and could not believe that a department of this nature had no publicly available contact numbers at all.

I was informed later that allegedly the rights owner had just lost an EU court battle to stop my supplier from selling the product I had bought. The UK patent office said that it would be impossible to claim a UK patent for a light up ice cube and virtually impossible to claim UK copyright for a partially melted ice cube as the design is too generic. This VeRO was nothing to do with trademark infringement; it was all about market share.

To cut a very long story short, the business sat out its suspension, and re-opened a week later. When my eBay account was reinstated, everything had gone. All my listings had simply vanished, my shop had been closed and everything had to be redone from scratch. A few days before Christmas, I wanted to be packing my last couple of parcels and putting my feet up, not trying to rescue my income from Hurricane VeRO.

This wasn’t my first run in with VeRO. I have had a few over the past 12 months. Unfortunately, the first you hear about the possibility that you are infringing a trademark, for an item you’ve bought from a UK supplier in good faith, is when it is removed from eBay. By this time, the black mark has already gone against your ID. I have never wilfully infringed any trademark, patent or copyright and have always complied and removed offending items. Not one VeRO has been for counterfeit or fake goods which is what the program was intended for. All have been for market manipulation. VeRO don’t get involved in the decision as to whether your item infringes a trademark; they simply remove the listing on the instruction of the person claiming to be the rights owner. And unfortunately I don’t have the finances to challenge eBay legally.

I contacted VeRO to ask them what will happen the next time I am VeRO’d, which will happen I am sure, because more and more companies are using the VeRO program to control the marketplace. The answer? Suspension again, possibly for two weeks, possibly indefinitely. So I have had to make the difficult decision to wind down and eventually close the eBay ID gadgets-and-gifts-uk with nearly 4,500 positive feedback at 99.9% positive. VeRO destroyed this business.

eBay needs to recognise that businesses operating within its infrastructure should be given proper levels of support – a dedicated business support unit for example – if it wants businesses to continue to grow on the site.

The VeRO system needs a complete overhaul to meet the demands of the changing face of eBay. eBay is no longer a site used solely by people to sell of their unwanted items. It is an online Global trading platform for businesses all over the world. VeRO is being abused by some of the big brands to control the marketplace. The ‘guilty until proven innocent’ style of listing terminations not only goes against the foundation of English law where you are innocent until proven guilty, but also the very foundations of eBay where the founder believed that people are generally honest. My recommendations for change in the VeRO process would be a telephone support line for businesses to the VeRO department, and to stop suspending eBay accounts on the basis of an unverified source.

There are also grave concerns from Privacy International about the offering of personal information to VeRO participants. This is even more worrying to know that eBay don’t even verify the VeRO members and it is common knowledge within the EBay business community that there people who use the VeRO system fraudulently.

eBay Powersellers in the UK staged a small protest a couple of weeks ago to raise this issue with eBay and the response has been extremely disappointing. It took days for the eBay legal team to offer a response to our complaints: their answer was that the VeRO system is fine as it is.

As for me, I’m abandoning an ID I worked hard to grow. I have reinvested in a brand new website, which had its first sale yesterday (under 2 weeks from launch) and I have a presence on Tazbar as well as a couple of smaller eBay IDs. My business will survive, but without the major eBay component I had once planned.

11 Responses

  1. I seem to be hearing more and more of these stories – are more scammers learning to use vero to their own advantage, since VERO actually does little follow-up to verify the identity or validity of a complaint?

  2. I am completely amazed that Ebay do not see the danger of this to their business.

    How can a business allow other businesses to put their customers under and activiley support it.

    I hope this is a snowball effect, in that this gets major media attention.

    Than and only then will Ebay do anything.

  3. it’s a terrible shame that you have had to end your eBay enterprise. We have had many VeRO issues over the last few years and also suffered a suspension in the early stages of the business.

    eBay will not change the VeRO policy as it gets them “off the hook” when faced with legal action from the rights owners.

    I can see the reasons for VeRO but it is not regulated, anyone can register which can lead to abuse.

    In fact we are also VeRO members, only to stop other eBayers from using our images, not to restrict legitimate competition.

    I do hope that your website is a success.

  4. Well it is September 2007, months after this story was published and VERO still continues to be abused at ebay by hucksters who want to eliminate competition, manipulate the market for their own greed, etc.

    Auctions that I have repeatedly listed at eBay for almost 8 years have recently been yanked off ebay due to the abuse of the VERO program. It seems any wanker can fill out the VERO form and have competing auctions pulled to increase their own market share since ebay refuses to verify the validity of their IP claim.

    Ebay’s trust and safety department refuses to listen to my complaint that my auctions are not in violation of IP laws, but instead are being targeted so another ebay user can eliminate competition, namely me. I also pointed out that the person making the VERO complaint against me has committed perjury on the VERO form they signed against me since there is clearly no IP violations in any of the auctions I sell on ebay.

    Ebay just turns a blind eye to all of this abuse.

    Needless to say after 8 years of hard work building a successful ebay business I’m being forced to close my ebay business.

    I have lost thousands of dollars in income due to VERO abuses, and now I have lost my ebay business. This really sucks.

  5. Both Ebay Vero suck! Ebay & now they own Paypal both rib you off with idiotic fees. Their day will come though, other internet auction sites are getting bigger due to Ebay’s own greed!

  6. If you have been Vero’d by another seller I strongly suggest you send them a warning email to desist from claiming a false IP right – then if they refuse to allow E Bay to relist your item you can simply file a NOCI against ALL their listings.
    It is very important that ALL E Bay users who encounter this problem file NOCI against other sellers. It is only when there is a significant disruption in the marketplace will E Bay sit up and take notice. You can also use this tactic to enforce cooperation from unscrupulous sellers trying to corner the marketplace.

  7. Sorry, what is NOCI?

    I ask because I had a listing removed yesterday for VERO infringement, but when I contacted the two companies I know own the copyright to the makes shown in the listing, neither of them had heard of the complainant’s email address. I have forwarded the VERO removal email to the copyright holder, and I presume they will be taking action themselves, and have emailed the complainant asking what right has been infringed, but no reply…

    it is only one small listing so nothing special, but I still think it is very strange that someone can claim a copyright that does not belong them .

  8. I would take some proper advice before you follow MadHatter’s suggestions; NOCI is (as far as I am aware) US law and not applicable to UK issues. It stands for “notice of copyright infringement”. Other advice given in that post seems to me to be deeply flawed. As always, do not rely on the comments of random strangers on the internet (even me!) when legal issues are at stake.

  9. I have already done all I am going to do, it is for the copyright holder to pursue the matter rather than me.

    I just wondered. and yes, I agree, US law and UK law are just a TAD different…. 😉

    edit: your comments apply to more than just me of course… DOH…

  10. Here is a nice story, and maybe be of use oneday. I am heavily involved in product compliance for the products from a small firm (it’s extremely dull and makes staring at a breezeblock wall a fun day out)… (it’s all the work that goes into supporting the CE marking you see on a product!)

    anyway.. one of their customers decided to make his own product. I advised him on the compliance issues and that was that. He later came back to me for advice on bullying tactics from an American firm claiming they owned the rights etc.. the tactics used by the USA company was a disgrace, they were using the USA legal process to keep his product out of north america, and then they started in on Europe. ( remember in USA with certain legal matters you can say just about anything you want, like you invented the wheel, for a case to start. Doing that gets a great deal of money and time locked up, effectively putting the other party in a boggy marsh on a rainy day in a place where it rains all the time.) I said maybe he should avoid the legal processes and maybe do something else instead. ( I speak from experience!)

    So I get a call from this dude a few months later saying how he complained to the UK authorities ( trading standards ) about the non-compliance of these american products ( incorrectly CE marked, not compliant etc) .. it turns out the inter-European product surveillance and reporting mechanism worked rather well, resulting in the products being seized by the various regulatory enforcement agencies across europe. Result!

    Not much help for VERO, sorry about that. Which reminds me I have a product I sell (designed by myself) that seems to trigger a copyright warning everytime I list. Genius.


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