Ending a listing early on eBay is not against the law, Germany's highest court has ruled, throwing out a claim for damages from a buyer, who has made a business out of suing sellers that cancel their auctions.
The Federal Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday on the controversial practice of bidding low on items on auctioneer websites like eBay and then suing for damages if the seller cancels the auction prematurely constituted an "abuse of the law."
Germany's highest court dealt with the disputed 2012 sale of a used Yamaha motorcycle. At the time, a bidder had agreed to pay 1 euro ($1.13) for the second-hand bike. Shortly thereafter, the seller canceled the listing, sold the motorcycle elsewhere - and got sued.
The bidder complained that his offer of 1 euro represented a valid sales contract, alleging that the seller had taken down the listing without a valid reason. EBay does permit auctions to be canceled, but only under certain circumstances such as theft or a typo in the listing, or wrong technical specifications of the item put up for auction.
But rather than get in touch immediately after the auction was called off, the bidder waited six months, according to court documents. Then he demanded a payout of 4,899 euros - one euro less than the bike's estimated market value.
Bid low, sue high
People who bid on products at an online auction, only to wait for the seller to get cold feet and back out so the bidder can sue for damages are known in Germany as "Abbruchjäger," or cancellation hunters.
"As a rule, cancellation hunters aren't interested in the object they're bidding on at all. They wait for it to be sold elsewhere. That way, their claim for the product becomes a claim for damages," Christian Solmecke, an expert in IT, media and internet law, told DW.
According to Solmecke, this kind of predatory bidding is a common practice at online auctions. They generally target inexperienced sellers who get nervous that the item they're selling isn't getting enough bids and take down the listing prematurely.
No legal precedent
However, the Karlsruhe-based high court didn't decide what exactly constituted an "Abbruchjäger" and whether encountering one is grounds for nullifying a sales contract.
The court, which is Germany's last instance in matters of ordinary jurisdiction, threw out the case on formal grounds, saying the complainant wasn't eligible to sue the seller because his eBay account wasn't registered on his name, but that of his father.
It maintained the ruling of a regional court, which found reason to believe the bidder had been engaged in the sort of legal trolling.
A spokeswoman for eBay welcomed the ruling, but regretted that the court had not set "clear criteria to ensure the necessary legal framework" for predatory bidding. The company though, would "continue to sanction bidders suspected of abusing eBay terms and conditions," she added.
cjc,uhe/hg (dw.com, dpa, AFP)