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Can Negative eBay Feedback Be Defamation?

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Ebay Explained 2006 (KLCC) by liewcf on Flickr

Photo by liewcf on Flickr

Online eBay seller Elliot Miller has sued buyer Michael Steadman for $15,000, alleging defamation based on negative comments Steadman left on Miller’s profile after what he considered a bad buying experience.

The suit arose out of a disagreement over a clock Steadman bought from Miller for $44 in 2008; Steadman alleges that the clock came in pieces that not only didn’t fit together but also didn’t appear to be from the same clock. Although PayPal’s buyer protection plan gave him back his money, Steadman went back on eBay to Miller’s profile and wrote, “Bad seller; he has the ethics of a used car salesman.”

This comment didn’t sit well with Miller, who also happens to be a lawyer.

So Miller, who previously had a perfect seller’s rating, sued Steadman for defamation, alleging the comment harmed his “commercial reputation.”

Who wins?

Defamation laws vary by state, but generally in order to prove defamation, a plaintiff must show that a published statement made by another person is false and harmful to the person bringing the claim. Perhaps most importantly, though, in order to be judged defamation, a statement must be presented as a fact. A statement that is opinion cannot form the basis of a defamation lawsuit.

Turning to the facts in this case, comparing someone’s ethics to that of a used car salesman sure seems like an opinion, but even if it is presented as fact, Miller would then have to prove that the assertion is false. How exactly does one prove he is an ethical person? The impossibility of that task seems to suggest that, indeed, we’re talking about opinion here, but, of course, the court is the final arbiter. Stay tuned!

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April 26th, 2010 at 10:34 am