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EBAY have upped the stakes in their stand-off with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. They have now issued a statement accusing Rowling of harassing them and spreading misleading information in relation to a dispute over pirate Harry Potter e-books offered on their Indian website.

As reported in ATG No 1780, March 10, Rowling sought an injunction demanding that eBay India prevent pirate copies of the e-books from being uploaded for sale on their site – having already succeeded in getting them to remove offending copies that had already appeared.

A court ruling ordering eBay to prevent offending items being uploaded onto their site would challenge the very core of their business structure, which allows them to operate a vast trading platform. And it could have huge implications for the enormous trade in art, antiques and collectables on the site.

The case was filed in India because under Indian copyright law, a company can be held responsible if they allow their premises to be used to infringe that copyright. In this case, eBay’s online selling platform is being interpreted as the premises, directly challenging their long and fiercely held claim that they cannot be held responsible for what their users sell nor can they monitor and vet everything put up for sale.

An injunction was served by the High Court in Delhi in February, but there is a dispute as to whether it applied directly to eBay or the site’s users.

At the heart of the case is whether or not eBay manage to vet Rowling material before it is uploaded to see if it is pirated. If they succeed, it could well have implications for other pending cases, including their disputes with Tiffany in the United States and Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior in Paris over the promotion and sale of fakes on the website.

The judge in the High Court in Delhi has now heard further representations from the two sides but has yet to publish his findings.

Meanwhile, possibly in an attempt to play down the significance of the case, eBay have filed an application accusing Rowling and her representatives of spreading misinformation about the court orders, saying it has caused the company “immense harassment and humiliation” as well as damaging their goodwill and reputation.

In a statement to ATG, US representatives of eBay said: “The court did not clarify whether an injunction had been issued against eBay, as they did not feel it was necessary given the facts and circumstances of the case. However, the court did make it clear that at this stage in the case, no opinion has been expressed by the court as to whether eBay is liable for third party infringement.”

The fact that eBay have gone to such lengths to rebut Rowling’s case may point to them being seriously rattled by the court action.

No date has been given for the publication of the court’s ruling, but all eyes will be on India until it is.

By Ivan Macquisten