Ah yes, eBay! The online auction giant that makes all your dreams come true for finding that special something you can't find anywhere else.
It's like a giant garage sale in the sky.
Unfortunately, eBay's size makes it easy for people to sell stolen or unauthorized merchandise and not get caught.
To their credit, I think eBay does as much as humanly possible to police their site and shut down any offenders quickly.
However, I recently discovered that plenty of mischief still occurs, especially with downloadable products.
When checking my email yesterday, I found two messages that disturbed me.
The first was an automated message from eBay telling me about an auction selling an e-book about writing e-books.
Another email came in from a good customer who sent me a link to another auction on eBay that, to them, "looked suspicious."
I clicked on the links for both auctions and found identical postings by two different sellers.
Though they did not mention my e-book, "How to write and Publish Your Own e-Book... in as little as 7 Days," the blatant similarity between the wording on the auctions.
Since they didn't reference the e-book they were selling by title, I decided to go ahead and buy from both sellers to see what they sent me.
Imagine my horror when they both delivered my own e-book, which they were selling illegally.
I immediately got the auctions shut down, but the damage was already done.
Plenty of stolen merchandise gets sold via online auction sites.
People call it "bootlegged" or "unauthorized copies" to soften the wording for what they really know is "stolen merchandise."
Of the two sellers mentioned above, I believe one knew he was illegally selling my e-book and didn't care, while the other person was just ignorant and thought she could sell it because she'd bought it from someone else. Regardless of their true intentions, their actions were illegal.
Now, let's discuss how you protect yourself and your intellectual property against illegal sales and "bootlegging" on eBay and other online auction sites.
First, set up automated searches on the major online auction services.
Set them up to automatically notify you whenever an auction gets posted that includes your name or the name of your product.
You can also set them up to email you whenever an auction gets listed with certain keywords in it, in my case "write e-book."
Second, if you find someone has stolen your intellectual property (sales copy, e-books, photos, graphics, software, etc.) you should first contact the seller and politely, but firmly, ask them to remove it.
If they don't, or if they take more than a few hours to respond, you should contact the auction site directly to request an immediate takedown of the offending auction.
eBay's "Vero" program, for example, enables you to simply fax in a form or send an email to get an auction removed.
You should also go back and check periodically to make sure that an offending seller doesn't start selling your product again once they think the uproar has died down.
Third, pay attention to emails from customers and prospects for signs of anything strange.
Watch for comments like "I saw your e-book for sale on eBay," or "I saw it cheaper on eBay."
Also, make sure to compare customer service inquiries to your customer database.
Anyone who asks specific questions about a product and appears to possess it, but never bought it from you, should immediately raise a red flag.
Always try to find out where they bought the product and get them to send you a copy of their email receipt, because all roads to the thief usually lead back through the credit card processor.
Finally, trust the never-failing boomerang of karma to come full circle and ultimately whack any thief in the head!
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