Copyright questions - selling ebooks and audiobooks on eBay

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Copyright is the cornerstone of the creative industries. Publishing both printed and digital products is a time consuming, risky and expensive business. When authors, illustrators and publishers put their energy and money into creating a book, they depend on a financial return. Copyright helps to protect this, by placing a value on creativity, innovation and originality.The illegal downloading of content has repercussions for all the readers who currently enjoy the benefits of a vibrant and successful UK publishing industry. Creators need financial returns to survive, and publishers and authors depend on being able to protect their content so that writing, illustrating and publishing can remain commercially and creatively viable. Thanks to publishers’ investments, more legitimate content is available to more users in more ways than ever before.

To find out more about Intellectual Property Rights visit the eBay IP tutorial

Q. What are the risks of selling pirated content on eBay?

Sellers found to be selling infringing editions and reported to eBay can receive an official warning with restrictions placed on their accounts, and can also be banned from using eBay completely. In cases of serious or persistent infringement we also reserve the right to prosecute and/or pursue the infringer through the Criminal Court, where penalties range from fines of up to £50,000 to imprisonment of up to ten years.

It doesn't matter if the item is delivered on a physical CD/DVD if you don't have the right to sell the item in the first place, eBay has a clear policy of preventing infringing eBooks from being sold via their sites, check the Digitally Delivered Goods Policy:

Not allowed: eBooks or audio books that you don't own the copyright to and aren't authorised to resell by the owner, the owner’s authorised agent, or the law.

Q. What is a copyright infringing edition or pirate edition?

A. They are the same thing, as piracy is the common name for copyright infringing and copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of works which are protected by copyright. An infringing or pirate book is a book for which the copyright owner has not given permission for sale/resale and as such the author or rightsowner receives no royalties from the sale of these works.

In the UK copyright does not need to be registered or publicly claimed, protection is automatic at the point of creation and covers both published and unpublished material. The copyright owner might be a publisher, an author or an estate; copyright commonly lasts for the duration of the creator/author's life plus 70 years.

Q.  eBay allowed me to list the auction so how can I be responsible for selling infringing goods?

A. Please check the eBay terms and conditions – eBay does not necessarily pre-screen auctions or verify that sellers have the right to sell. The responsibility for this lies solely with the seller to ensure that he or she has the legal right to sell the item, check the  Guidelines for Creating Legally Compliant Listings for more information.

The Digitally Delivered Goods Policy is very clear:

You can list digitally delivered goods on eBay as long as you follow these guidelines:

You can only sell items that you're authorised to sell by the law.

Your listing clearly states that you legally own the content (sometimes called intellectual property) or are authorised to sell it by the owner, the owner's agent or the law.

You're responsible for complying with the contractual agreements you may have entered into with licensors. If you're reselling a digitally delivered good, you must state in your listing that you're selling a legally purchased item and that you've removed all copies from your devices and the cloud, or have otherwise disabled your own use of the good. You must act in accordance with that statement.

Q. If you can sell on used copies of physical books can you sell on a used copy of an ebook?

A.  To find out you need to contact the rightsowner to seek permission to sell on their content, and as part of this you would probably have to undertake to destroy the original file. eBay requires that sellers demonstrate permissions to sell copyrighted items under their Recordable Media Policy:

Allowed - Media where the seller is the copyright owner or authorised to sell the item by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. The listing must clearly state that the seller is authorised to sell the item.

Not Allowed - The following are examples of items that aren't allowed on eBay: Compilations of multiple e-books or audio books on one DVD-R or other recordable media

Q. I bought a CD of audiobooks/ebooks in an eBay auction and I was told that I could sell these on, is this true?

A. As mentioned in eBay's Public Domain Media Policy:

Before you sell any media such as music, movies, literature, or photos, you're responsible for finding out if the media you're planning to sell is protected by a copyright.

It is the seller’s responsibility to ensure that they have the legal right to sell a work, ignorance is no excuse and a re-seller can still be held liable for infringement under the UK’s Copyright Act of 1988. If you bought infringing items in good faith then you should report the infringing seller to eBay.

Q. Aren't you are allowed to sell audiobooks/ebooks as long as they are sent physically through the post?

A. Whilst eBay's Digitally Delivered Goods Policy states that a digital item must be physically delivered this does not give a seller the right to sell on infringing audiobooks or ebooks. Check the Recordable Media Policy for more information

Q. If audiobooks/ebooks are downloaded for free from a website doesn’t this mean that they are in the public domain so not covered by copyright?

A. A public domain work is a work for which the copyright period of 70 years from death of the author has expired or where copyright has been actively surrendered by the rightsowner. Just because a work is already being pirated and is being made  available on the internet does not mean that it has entered the public domain, you can still be held accountable for copyright infringement if you attempt to sell on the work. Check eBay's Public Domain Media Policy:

If you describe the content offered in your eBay listing as having entered the public domain, make sure you meet both of these requirements:
- You've confirmed that the content is in fact in the public domain.
- For compilations ebooks and audio books, you list all titles included in the listing.
Make sure your listing follows these guidelines. If it doesn't, it may be removed, and you may be subject to a range of other actions, including limits of your buying and selling privileges and suspension of your account.

Q. Why has the listing been taken down when it has a GNU licence for re-sell?

A. A GNU licence is a public use licence for software and is meaningless for audiobooks and ebooks, the contents of which are protected by copyright law.

Q. Where can I find non-infringing ebooks and audiobooks?

A. You can purchase legitimate ebooks and audiobooks for your own use from various sources, visit The Content Map for more information. For free ebooks try the Baen Free Library - nb you do not have the right to re-sell the titles from any of these sources without the permission of the copyright owner.

For freely available public domain titles visit Project Gutenberg or LibriVox.
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