Is eBay helping rip off young Harry Potter fans?

J. K. Rowling Signature: Legit or Not?

Real signature, or forgery?

Here’s a small tempest in a teapot that’s brewing online, just in time to sidetrack eBay from its multi-billion dollar purchase of Skype.
In one corner we have Harry Potter author Jo Rowling, who has been sharing with her fans that she’s upset about “signed copies” of her books for sale on eBay that are actually forgeries. In the other corner we have eBay who says “consumers should be wary of any signatures sold on the site”.
Confusing the matter, eBay is also stating that “it’s up to the copyright owner to report a violation” while Rowling claims she’s already done so, without result.
What makes this interesting is that it really demonstrates the phenomenal challenge of policing the digital world: author Jo Rowling is essentially claiming that she knows the location of every signed copy of her Harry Potter books, while eBay is responding that figuring out what is legitimate and what isn’t is far too difficult a job for them to undertake.

I understand eBay’s position in this situation, because as a venue for selling products, eBay cannot possibly check the veracity and legitimacy of every item up for sale, with millions more added every day. On the other hand, as with any other auction site, the audience for eBay will surely be disillusioned if the chance of being ripped off exceeds a certain threshold, so they can’t completely ignore the situation either, especially with the person whose autograph is in question is stating publicly that the auction items are not legitimate.
Go look at an auction on eBay and you’ll see that the bottom of a typical signed Potter book listing, just like any other eBay item, states that “Seller assumes all responsibility for listing this item.” More to the point, in its help area, eBay has an entire page about autographed items where it states: “eBay may also seek a disinterested third party�s opinion regarding any listing of an autograph or autographed item. If the third party has concerns about the autograph�s or item�s authenticity, eBay may remove the listing from the site.”
This doesn’t apply to Rowling, however, because as the ostensible “signer” of the book, ironically, she’s not a disinterested third party, is she?
Further, here’s what I thought was a more interesting clause, and one that might end up at the center of this controversy: “eBay may remove any listing involving an autographed item if eBay believes that the listing or item may create liability for the buyer, the seller, or any third party.”
In that instance, surely a book purported to be signed by the author but actually a forgery does create liability for a third party, the author herself?
Their rules, then, are somewhat contradictory because on the one hand the person whose signature is involved cannot be called upon to verify their signature (which certainly seems weird to me), but on the other hand, the author is indirectly liable for anyone who buys a forgery expecting a legitimate autograph, and that person can reasonably inquire directly to the author – J. K. Rowling in this case – requesting a legitimate autograph.
So can Rowling stop the auction of autographed Harry Potter books that are purported to be forgeries? Or can eBay stick with its existing autograph policy and continue to encourage its buyers to caveat emptor as usual?

12 comments on “Is eBay helping rip off young Harry Potter fans?

  1. i was reading your article and have bought a book with j k rowlings signature, i need to find out wether it is real or not, can you help me or do you know of anyone i can email it to, to check.
    any help would be much appreciated.

  2. I’ve been banned from “ebay” for 4 years now (my name, my credit card, my user names were all banned from ebay). The reason: I reported a mastermind fraudster a long time thief and criminal from Israel to ebay. He’s been (and still is!!) defrauding people with his fake cheques on ebay for many years. So, this year I went to check my account. It says I’m still “suspended indefinitely”. Now “ebay” says the reason is that I listed a fake phone number on my contact info! Is that it?? In fact that “fake” phone number is my old number from my previous apartment I used to live at! I forgot to update it in late 2002 and they banned me just for being late to update my phone number for a couple weeks! I think the MAIN REASON is NOT that. The MAIN REASON is that I attempted to disrupt a very profitable game that “ebay” plays allowing fraudsters to defraud ebay users! Now I got an email from ebay that I owe them a tiny amount (under $5) for something I don’t even know! When I asked ebasy to tell me what I owe them for they ignored my request!Now they send me email that my “debt” has been cleared! I went to my ebay account and I see I owe them the same amount still! And I’m still suspended! Now I ban ebay from my life FOREVER! I’m tired of ebay’s dirty games! Ebay is banned from my life FOREVER!

  3. John, do you really think that a multi-billion-dollar company with a global footprint that’s publicly traded and under the watchful eye of groups like the Securities and Exchange Commission is a willful partner in defrauding its customers? Seems darn unlikely to me.

  4. I know that eBay does not care about fraud. We keep on reporting fraudulent art listings to their VERO department. All they do is take the specific listings off eBay. The sellers just steal images from other artists. They do not really do anything. Jo Rowling is correct. We have basically stopped listing originals on eBay. They just don’t care.
    I just reported 120 inccorrect listings with on URL to eBay. It showed listings that claim to be paintings that were painted before 1900 and listed by the artists. Now you show me the 106 year old painters that list their art themselves on eBay.
    They wrote me back and told me that I have to report each of these 120 listings in a separate form. Os they say: “We cannot accept
    reports of eBay User Ids, search results, or URLs.”
    Is it the buyers job to keep the eBay platform clean of fraud? Who is getting the billions of dollars?
    Go figure…

  5. I just bid on a supposdly sighned harry potter book, I need would like to know if it is real or not. How can I do that ? I really appreciate the help.
    Thank You for Your Time

  6. Franco, I have to say that unless the seller is offering up some third-party proof that the signature is legitimate, I would not bid more than a few dollars higher than the base price of the book for the supposedly “signed” edition. Good luck; it’s far too easy to have a fraudulent signature as a scam…

  7. I won a bid on eBay for an item in Canada for under $5.oo — however the Seller wanted me to pay $30 to hire someone to bring it across the border into the USA and “avoid” Customs charges. The Attorney General of my state said this was fraud and said not to pay it and to notify eBay.
    eBay told me that most problems can be resolved between Buyer and Seller and would not intervene. The Seller told me not to pay, but then lodged an Unpaid Strike against me.
    eBay eventually removed the strike, but warned me strictly that I was in jeapordy for not having paid fof the item and that additional Unpaid Strikes could have me removed from eBay.
    I couldn’t believe eBay’s attitude when the Seller wanted me to hire a smuggler to transport the purchase across an international border.

  8. Just today I stumbled on an ebay store that has regular auctions on thread, well I thought of starting a small enterprise of sewing and embroidery for children, as unreal as it may sound, the thread is sold at $1.99 a piece but the shipping is flat and straight $12.99 regardless, I c ould have not noticed, except that I wanted 48 cases (480 spools) to which shipping jump to a staggering $624.00 or so dollars, I thought, well how about I arrange for the delivery and save a few $$ in the way… call the thread store and the lady that answers stated that the flat rate of $12.99 is because the items are deliver from Asia and also applies to the customs fees etc. etc., does it make sense then that not only the consumer is cheated but the government as well, reporting a sell of $1.99 in customs and sale taxes when in fact shipping takes care of the real sale, comments on this site are noted by a few others that realized what goes on, you can count me as a former EBay, judging by the readings here im sure i will be banned soon after my complaint is submitted. is this seller own web and on ebay goes by minrak

  9. I agree that e-bay cannot practically check autheticity of all transactions on the Internet, but does this allow them to escape scot free from any liability especially when they are deriving benefit from sale of every pirated book.
    Who tends to loose in the end?? Its always the author who has applied skill, labour and time to compose a piece of work. In my opinion,before a special legislation is enacted, the law makers needs to take a recourse. The order passed by Delhi High Court clearly sends out a signal to eBay along with other e-autioneers that the right owners will exercise all kinds of rights to safeguard their intellectual property. So its high time that e-autioneers start policing their website against sale of counterfeit products on their website, before it gets too late.

  10. The one thing that I have seen make a differance to Ebay is if you are one of the people on Ebays payroll (goes on speaking event to say “I make tons of money on Ebay and you can too”). To be a UACC member means nothing, you pay and you are a member. Such as those “collectors” that have 2000+ authentic signed items up at any given time and many are the same photo over and over again. When asked (some times you have to push) where they get them they will say “a private signing in the stars home”. Because I know many stars I know they don’t say “sure come to my house and we will hit in my home and sign pictures for you”…it doesn’t happen like that. When you can prove the items that their favorite sellers have are fake they will do NOTHING to them but those with real items get kicked off or told they can come back when they get ALL their items authenticated by Ebays choosen company. They even show pictures with the stars. So what! If you live in a city like LA or Las Vegas you can see stars and get a photo with them every day. For those that don’t know Ebay has also joined up with Pay Pal and is telling PayPal to request information on who, where when and how you get your items. I’m sorry but if your Grandfather gave you a signed photo from the 40’s and Grandpa is dead how are you going to know that? There are other sites like and that many of the sellers from Ebay have found and are now selling on. I say good luck to those sellers and watch out Ebay.

  11. EBAY SUCKS!! They will ban anyone at the drop of a hat. They will terminate auctions for any reason and they will play GOD whenever they get the urge.
    They have a monopoly and anytime another auction site starts to take off, they will pay them off or buy them out. is growing and I think they will get bought out or maybe already have been paid off to stay small.
    I know when UBID was advertising like crazy, ebay paid them an amount to shut them up. Ubid eventually changed their format.
    Who knows what else is going on behind the scenes??
    Ebay SUCKS and I would suggest that any and all people stop using them and any products they market! This is the only way we can shut THEM up!!

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