eBay Thinks Sandra Bernhard Is A Pirate!

How does eBay tell if you’re a pirate? Your peg-legged swagger? Your use of arghs as punctuation? The foul-mouthed parrot crapping on your shoulder?

It’s pretty much a mystery. It certainly doesn’t seem to have anything to do with actually selling pirated merchandise. And eBay just won’t come clean on what their arbitrary policy on identifying sellers as pirates actually is, as reader Aaron D. recently discovered.

Aaron D. isn’t a pirate, but he does sell CDs and DVDs on eBay. He assures us that these are all completely legal and authorized. But eBay arched an eyebrow at him over a live Sandra Bernhard CD that he was selling, printed on a CD-R.

Counterintuitively, that CD-R is actually legit: Sandra Bernhard sold it to Aaron herself. But when Aaron explained that to eBay, they responded by yanking all of his other auctions, then canceling his account when he tried to set it right.

Argh, mateys, after the jump!

I recently opened up my very first ebay seller’s account. I also opened up a paypal account. I have heard all of the bad things about ebay and paypal, but I figured the bulk of what I was selling was going to be sold for minor duckets, so if it all blew up in my face I wouldn’t lose out too badly.

I listed approximately 40 different CDs and DVDs on ebay. A day into my listings, I recieved an email from ebay. They had taken down a Sandra Bernhard CD I had listed, claiming that it was an “unauthorized copy”. (See below copy of their final email for explanation as to what that means.) I understood how they could experience confusion about the item: Bernhard produces most of her live concert CDs herself and sells them at her shows and on her website. They are basically CD-R’s with silkscreened fronts and home-printed inserts.

I emailed the “Trust & Safety” department back explaining this, and stating that I would relist the item, but that in the item’s description I would make it unflinchingly clear that the item was NOT a bootleg or unauthorized copy, but was an original CD as made and sold by Bernhard herself.

Three days later I recieved two emails from ebay. One was a list of 11 CD’s up for auction which had been cancelled, again for violating the “unauthorized copy” rules. THIS TIME every single one of the CDs was a store-sold, factory-manufactured compact disc. The second email, which you can read below, informed my that my account had been cancelled because of my repeated violation of this policy.

As I’m sure you know, ebay provides no resource to try and work out issues of this nature aside from emailing them. If you try to call via telephone you are taken to a recording that tells you to keep emailing.

So what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to PROVE to ebay that the 11 CDs they alledge were bootleg or pirated copies are NOT?! I emailed ebay and told them point blank that the items in question were NOT bootlegs, and asked them what it was in my listings that made them think otherwise? They told me that they couldn’t tell me what it was about my listing that made them suspect they were bootlgs, because doing so would allow me to re-list the items and circumvent putting in phrasing that would “tip them off.”

So basically I’m screwed. I didn’t do what I’m accused of doing, ebay insists I did, and they have NO RESOURCES to allow you to prove that you’re in the right. I emailed “Trust & Safety” and said I would be glad to make an MPEG video of myself holding up all of the CDs, front and back inserts and front and back of the discs, to show they were store-sold silver discs, and they never wrote back.

Ultimately the last laugh is on ebay, because I took my business to amazon.com and over the last two weeks I ended up selling about 120 CDs for $1000+! So screw you, Ebay.

And the email they sent Aaron:

Unfortunately, your eBay account has been suspended for a minimum of seven days due to a violation of the eBay Unauthorized Copies (Copyright) policy.

eBay prohibits unauthorized copies of media (such as software, video games, music, television programs, and photographs). Unauthorized copies include (but are not limited to) backup, pirated, duplicated, or bootlegged copies. It is both illegal and against eBay policy to sell unauthorized copies of copyrighted media.

We suspended your account after carefully considering each violation and verifying that the correct action was taken.

As a result of your suspension, all of your current listings have been removed from eBay.

You are not permitted to use eBay in any way during your suspension. You’re also not allowed to register a new account or use another existing account. Doing so may result in your permanent suspension.

During your suspension, you also won’t be able to do any of the following:

– Bid on items
– Sell items
– Leave or receive Feedback
– File for an Unpaid Item credit

Any remaining fees that are on your account are due immediately. These fees will be charged using the billing method that you currently have on file.

To have your account considered for reinstatement, please visit:


Thank you for your understanding.


eBay Trust & Safety


Edit Your Comment

  1. KevinQ says:

    It’s due to America’s crazy copyright laws. If you’re selling “Unauthorized Copies,” and eBay knew (or should have known) and didn’t do anything to stop you, then they can be sued for contributory copyright infringement, and held as liable as you are. And our laws are set up such that you (the copier) don’t even have to be found guilty of actual copyright infringement before they can be found guilty of contributory infringement.

    What this means is that anybody whose goods are being copied and sold on eBay is going to sue eBay, and not you, because eBay’s got pockets full of cash, whereas you probably don’t. So eBay protects itself the only way it knows how, by flailing about wildly like a 4-year-old at a bee.

    They would rather lose a customer than be sued. Which is sad, but really is the only option left to them under our laws.

    eBay Trust and Safety: You trust them, and they’ll watch out for their own safety.


  2. Mr. Gunn says:

    Yea for American copyright law. Three cheers also for the asshats that are the reason Ebay can’t have a phone number you can call and talk to someone.

    You handled this one right.

  3. It sucks but I think you might be jsut plain out of luck. Technically, (and correct me if I’m wrong), ebay is a company and has the right to refuse service to you. Even though you broke no laws, they may still decide to suspend or revoke your membership on thier own accord. It’s certainly not a good customer service policy to be revoking memberships left and right, but there is nothing illegal about it. and KevinQ is dead on about why.

  4. Magicube says:

    They canceled an auction of mine recently for “keyword spamming,” which by their definition is when you fill your title or description with names that are more desirable than what you’re actually selling. In other words you pump up your crappy no-name point and shoot camera by comparing it to CANON LEICA NIKON etc.

    The problem was I wasn’t keyword spamming. In my description I stated that my camera was the next generation model and named the previous model. Anyone reading the description could not possibly be confused.

    I emailed back and forth with them and finally relisted it with no mention of the other camera. The reps were complete idiots and not one of them bothered to read the thread of previous emails or reference the actual language I used in the description.

    The real chiller is that they allow you, the eBay shopper (or seller), to rat out other auctions and presumably they just willy-nilly cancel them. I assume that they will because they obviously don’t actually read the auction details before hitting the red button. This is great–now we can have seller wars where one seller “reports” all of another sellers auctions and destroys someone’s business for a week.

  5. GenXCub says:

    The holder of the copyright usually needs to notify eBay, or at least have someone complain. For those unaware, eBay has a huge “custom” action figure market (do a search in toys for Custom). Many comic/tv characters don’t have a figure, or they’re so hard to find, people take one action figure, and through the magic of paint and Sculpey, turn them into other characters and make SERIOUS bank. Most of the time, these are not cited, and the market goes on without a hitch. Other times people, just to be a-holes, sic the eBay dogs on specific sellers out of jealousy and get their stuff messed up. Sad really. Great crafters/artists doing a lot of these customs.

  6. sirjorg says:

    They did this to me once, and suspended my account for 30 days. My items were legit too, i just waited it out, and later posted them again with new pic’s and more clever and subversive writing and sold the items for higher than they were worth.

    I’m assuming it’s all in the way you write and answer questions. Other than that, Ebay is notorius for doing this sort of thing, and then deleting your account for no good reason.

  7. medalian1 says:

    fark ebay, they’re out of control and paypal is right behind them … someone please make an alternative!!

  8. yesihave6kids says:

    I had an a sellers account with several items ready to close in under an hour and all had bids. They terminated my listing for so called trademark infringement that they had claimed was from being notified by the owning company, that my 6 listings were a violation and the items were counterfeit (they weren’t). However there are over 300 pages of the “VS” items still on ebay listed the exact same way. Yet they were not cancelled. Ironically I would not take paypal. Ebay and Paypal are owned together hmmmmm….I am no longer allowed to have an Ebay account and am permanently suspended. Anybody up for a class action lawsuit? Ebay has gotten too big for their own good. Check out Overstock.com Quick simple and easy to register. Auction checkout is a great alternative to paypal especially if you are planning on selling a lot and it is quick and simple to join! I used to preach Ebays praises, Not any more and am digging for proof they make crap up to get rid of certain sellers. I am also forwarding copies of their e-mails to the CA Better Business Bureau in their area, The CA States Attorneys office, and the California Dept of Law enforcement. I am also contacting the so called company that supposedly notified Ebay even though there is no actual fact to the e-mail address Ebay provided me. I did nothing wrong and was not even questioned, last time I checked in this country you are innocent until proven guilty. The irony is everytime I had a problem with a bidder, Ebay did nothing to help me out!