Harry Potter and the pirates of eBay

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Representatives of J K Rowling are calling on eBay to take stronger measures to ensure that pirate copies of the final Harry Potter book cannot be sold on the site. eBay’s policy is that it is up to rights holders to use the VeRO program to police listings themselves, but this has been branded “unacceptable” by Rowling’s lawyer, who called for pre-emptive blocking of electronic copies of the book. eBay’s spokesman countered that “it would be difficult to block such items without also blocking legitimate sales, like second-hand Harry Potter books or other merchandise”.

This response from eBay does seem a little lame. Listings *are* currently held for security checking before they’re allowed on to the site. This could be done for anything with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in the title – though of course, if someone has just sued you *and* put out misinformation about the results, you might not be feeling very cooperative.

I can’t help thinking that blaming eBay for unauthorised Harry Potter ebooks is about like blaming Xerox for people making photocopies of the book. With a phenomenon as huge as Harry Potter, piracy is inevitable. If it’s driven off eBay, it will only be elsewhere on the net: if I were Rowling’s legal team, I’d prefer it on eBay where I could find it easily, track it down and stop it, than tucked away on some remote server outside the jurisdiction of British copyright laws.

Scotland on Sunday might primly comment that they “tracked down rip-off freelance translations in French, Spanish, German and Russian within days of [the last Harry Potter book] hitting the bookstands”, but is anyone really surprised about that? Faced with the world buzzing about a book and a ridiculous wait for non-English versions of it, of course pirate translations will appear: where there’s a demand, there’ll be a supply. Rowling’s lawyers really should stop going after the easy target of eBay and start trying to stop those who are actually responsible for pirating her work.


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