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eBay School: Counterfeit goods

A short guide to fakes and aftermarket products on eBay
by Gisle Hannemyr
Published: 2011-04-25.

The industry producing counterfeit products and illegal copies is enormous. And a fair share of what is being produced by this industry ends up on eBay.

While eBay has an official policy banning counterfeit items and unauthorised copies from their marketplace, it is not doing very much to enforce this policy. I've seen sellers selling what is obviously illegal copies of Adobe Creative Studio operating on eBay for several months unchecked.

In addition to counterfeit items, you will also find aftermarket products on eBay that is not strictly illegal, but that still may fool you into thinking you are getting a premium brand item unless you know what to look for. In this lesson, I shall discuss both illegal and legal copies.

1. Counterfeits

“As the biggest online marketplace, eBay is the center of a new universe of counterfeit products.”
The New York Times, 27 November 2007.

The New York Times is right. There is a lot of counterfeit products on eBay. This is not only the case for fashion items such Tiffany silverware and Louis Vuitton handbags, as described by New York Times, but also for stuff that photographers buy.

For some type of product, the percentage of illegal copies and counterfeit items on eBay is so high that more than a third of the merchandise sold on eBay are illegal copies or fakes. I suspect that this is the case with some of the products associated with the following premium brands:

  • Adobe (image editing software).
  • Lexar, Kingston, SanDisk, (memory cards).
  • Canon, Nikon, Sanyo, Sony (batteries).

You can buy Adobe CS5 Design Premium for as little as USD 10 on eBay, while the retail price is USD 1899. What is sold this cheap on eBay is mostly illegal copies with cracked or misappropriated license keys. These copies may work for some time, but will stop working as soon as Adobe finds out and revokes the key. When it comes to expensive software, I strongly recommend that you only buy it from an official reseller. You can usually find a list of these on the company's homepage, such as this from Adobe.

Fake memory cards are so common on eBay that it is a special review category just for reporting fakes. The fake cards is usually slower than the speed printed on the label, and they are notoriously unreliable.

Fake Sonys.
Fake “Sony 5000 mAh” batteries.

Most aftermarket batteries on eBay are not claimed to be manufactured by some premium brand. Instead the listing only says the battery is for use in some premium brand product. But there also some batteries that are obviously fakes. For instance, Sony's highest capacity AA NiMH rechargeable battery is 2700 mAh, yet there are batteries sold on eBay labelled “Sony” and marked with capacities of 5000 mAh. I once measured the capacity of the fake batteries in such a pack, and the individual batteries could only hold between 530 mAh and 620 mAh.

There are a lot more fake products on eBay than the few examples given above, but I hope this has given you the idea that eBay may not be the safest place to buy new premium brand merchandise.

2. Aftermarket items

A genuine Nikon 52 mm snap-on lens cap costs USD 9.50 from an authorised Nikon dealer. On eBay, you can buy something that looks very much like it for less than USD 2. And at that price, the seller will throw in free shipping from Hong Kong to Europe!

As far these aftermarket items go, you can buy them both with and without a logo. However, you need to be aware that the two dollar snap-on lens cap with a Nikon logo is not made by Nikon. The low price gives the game away. In this particular case also the picture (below). The aftermarket snap-on lens cap comes with a string that is not part of the design of the original.

A fake Nikon lens cap.
The string on this “Nikon” lens cap is not featured on the real thing.

To be fair, if you read the listing of this particular seller, he says “third party design” in the description of the item, and he also takes care to always label the item as “for Nikon”. On eBay, this is a standard way of saying that the product is not manufactured “by Nikon”.

While the description of this particular lens cap is not intentionally deceptive, the use of the Nikon logo on it makes it an illegal counterfeit product according to the trademark laws in most countries. That means that by importing them, even for your own use, is illegal. So if you want an aftermarket item, you should get one without a bogus logo. Otherwise you risk having to pay a fine for importing a counterfeit product.

As far as quality goes, it must be said that the Nikon original USD 9.50 lens cap is of better quality than the USD 2.00 copy. The spring action of the original has a much more positive feel to it, and it also fits better. Whether that quality is worth paying five times the amount for, is something you have to decide for yourself.

3. Copies

On eBay, you will also find a lot of more or less exact copies of popular brand name products. However, if the item does not carry a bogus logo, and the seller does claim that the manufacturer is the popular brand, then the product is not legally counterfeit.

However, some sellers list such copies in ways that require diligence on part of the buyer. For example, the ShenZhen YongNuo Photographic Equipment Co. Ltd. makes a copy of the Nikon Off-camera Shoe Cord SC-28 that looks like the Nikon cord. Many of the sellers of the YongNuo cord use the term “Nikon SC-28” in the item title and description to attract buyers searching for the Nikon product. You usually need to read the full description of such an item carefully to discover that this is an aftermarket copy and not the original Nikon cord.

If you are looking for the original, don't buy the copy. But if you are a cheapskate, like me, you may want to go with such a copy now and then.

Below are some links to pages that explains how you recognise counterfeit products:

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