Suppose you purchased a product on eBay, realized that it was likely illegal (like a bootleg copy of the advertised copyrighted product), and returned it. Does the act of returning the product make you liable for its distribution? If one views the return and refund as a nullification of the original transaction maybe not, but if you consider the act of purchase and the act of the return as two separate actions then maybe the return is a kind of distribution, isn't it?

2 Answers 2


Does returning an illegal product back to the seller for the refund make one liable to said product distribution?

The offence, in the USA, relating to posting counterfeit goods (such as bootleg copies of copyrighted items) is at 18 U.S. Code § 2320

(a)(1) Whoever intentionally - traffics in goods or services and knowingly uses a counterfeit mark on or in connection with such goods or services


(f)(5) the term “traffic” means to transport, transfer, or otherwise dispose of, to another, for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, or to make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess, with intent to so transport, transfer, or otherwise dispose of

My reading of (f)(5), is that the element of possession with intent refers back to the transportation for advantage or gain which would not be the case for a straight refund, so it may be lawful to return the goods - subject to any prohibitions imposed by the postal carrier.

However, there is no requirement to return counterfeit goods to the seller according to EBay's Money Back Guarantee

Counterfeit items If a buyer reports that an item is counterfeit, and there are strong indicators that the item is counterfeit, we may not require the buyer to return the item to the seller. The buyer agrees to cooperate with us to ensure proper disposal of the item. In such instances, we refund the buyer for the full cost of the item and original shipping, and the seller is required to reimburse us for the refund. The buyer may not sell the item on eBay or elsewhere.

  • 1
    The criminal liability portion is an important angle, but I read the question as asking more about whether a refund violates the copyright holder's right of distribution under § 106.
    – bdb484
    Feb 24, 2021 at 21:56
  • 1
    Bootleg copies of copyright-protected items are not the same as counterfeit goods. Counterfeit goods are in violation of trademark protection, not copyright protection. 18 USC 2320 doesn't apply to bootleg recordings.
    – phoog
    Feb 25, 2021 at 7:44
  • @phoog. Good spot, ill edit my answer later to make it clear
    – user35069
    Feb 25, 2021 at 7:56

No it doesn't

If you return a copyrighted product (Say you got it from eBay), And return it. Whoever sold that would have legal liability. The act of returning the product is not distributing it IF you thought the product was Illegal and you returned it.

  • 3
    -1 for the failure to cite law.
    – bdb484
    Feb 24, 2021 at 21:58

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