From Times Online, October 24, 2008 (Kaya Burgess)
A man is facing legal action for libel after leaving negative feedback for an item he bought on auction website eBay.
The negative feedback at the centre of the dispute
When Chris Read received the £155 mobile phone he had purchased from Joel Jones on eBay, he found it was the wrong model and was not in good condition, as advertised.
The 42-year-old mechanic from Kent returned the phone, and, on October 3, used the feedback facility on the website, designed to warn other buyers of potentially untrustworthy sellers. He wrote: “Item was scratched, chipped and not the model advertised on Mr Jones’s eBay account.”
Mr Read subsequently received an e-mail from Mr Jones, a 26-year-old businessman from Suffollk who deals in second-hand electrical goods, saying that his comments were damaging his business, and threatening him with legal action unless he deleted them from the site.
Mr Read said: “I was told the phone was in good condition, but there were scratches all over it, a big chip out of the side and it was a different phone. I paid for a Samsung F700 and got a Samsung F700V.”
Although he received a refund for the erroneous product, Mr Read decided to stand his ground, and told Mr Jones he would go to court if necessary, which would be a legal first for such a libel case.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Read was sent a pre-court letter from Mr Jones, which asked him to agree that his comments were unfair. The letter told him that he had seven days to respond, or he would face court action, “substantial” legal fees and costs of £175.
Mr Jones, who sells under the username ‘onsalexuk,’ defended his action, and said: “I am being punished on eBay because of this as sellers who have negative feedback appear lower down the screen in searches than other people. I’m losing money by the day and my business could go under because of it. I’ve been left with no option but to take legal action.”
He called Mr Read’s comments “unfair, unreasonable and damaging”, because he had received a “no-quibble” refund for the phone.
Mr Read, however, said: “I can’t believe someone can be so petty. I only wanted to buy a phone. All I had done was left an honest opinion and everything I said was true.
“I thought that was why the feedback service was there. It’s not like I wrote anything malicious or nasty.”
An eBay spokeswoman said that the dispute had not been brought to them, and added that: “”We are very disappointed that this seller has chosen to sue rather than to attempt to resolve the buyer’s problem amicably.” She explained that one negative comment was unlikely to affect Mr Jones’s status on the site, which still rates him with a 98.7% positive feedback tally overall.
However, as the law of libel – that of publishing a false or defamatory statement which damages someone’s reputation – applies online as well as in print, Mr Read could have a case to answer if the court decides his comments qualify as libellous.
He said: “I’m prepared to fight my corner.”
Chris Matyszczyk a Technology writer from CNET said: “Surely Jones is seeking sympathy rather than justice. Because even if he somehow persuaded a court that he was right (which would seem a little unlikely), he will always be known as the scratchy phone seller who sues his customers.”
Earlier this year, eBay banned sellers from leaving feedback for their buyers, which means that Mr Jones was unable to retort to Mr Read’s criticism. A Facebook group called “eBay Sellers Want Feedback Rights” is calling for this decision to be reversed, and eBay has admitted it needs to review its dispute-handling procedures.
A new system will be launched later this month to allow sellers legitimately to ask buyers to revoke negative feedback if a dispute has been resolved.