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For an online auction, it often requires multiple pictures and more extensive descriptions than a live auction to result in the same exposure of the property.

Obviously, at a live auction, bidders can see the property for themselves; and in that live environment, the human eye can isolate 10-12 images per second.

For the same in an online auction, with the hope that possibly a bidder would view a chair, for example, for even 10 seconds might require 100 or more photos to keep the brain “engaged.”

However, rarely would it be reasonable or economical to take 100 pictures of each item of property in an online auction.

In fact, apparently sometimes it’s just as easy to merely take one picture of a folding chair, for example, and reuse that same picture for all 17 folding chairs selling in that auction.

Therefore, our question today: Online auctioneers using the same photos for different items?

One could certainly argue that if an online auctioneer had 17 of these metal folding chairs, all in similar and functional condition, that the same photo could be used for each one, if selling singularly.

However, 16 of the 17 folding chairs are not actually the folding chair being offered. Is this misrepresentation?

Said another way, is an online auctioneer who’s offering a “Lot #261 Meco Metal Folding Chair, Gray” misrepresenting this Lot #261 if the picture accompanying this Lot #261 is not a picture of this actual chair?

Would this be any different than taking the actual pictures of all 17 folding chairs, but repeating the identical description?

For example, let’s say the online auctioneer took a picture of each of the 17 folding chairs, but said “Meco Metal Folding Chair, Gray” for each, even though only 5 of the chairs were manufactured by Meco, and the other 12 were manufactured by Virco.

Meco and Virco both make gray metal folding chairs, but use slightly different gray dyes. Is this misrepresentation?

It would be hard to argue that the latter wasn’t a form of misrepresentation. A buyer of Lot #270 buys what he thinks is a Meco folding chair and gets a Virco folding chair.

Is this the same as a buyer who buys what he thinks is Lot #270 metal folding chair which looks just like Lot #261, but gets a chair that looks like Lot #270?

It seems to us the answer is, “yes.”

So what is an online auctioneer to do? It might be easy enough to acquiesce and take a picture of each of the 17 chairs. But, what if there were 170 chairs? What if there were 1,700 chairs? 17,000?

Certainly at some point, it becomes impractical to take a picture of each metal folding chair — especially in light of them all largely looking nearly identical.

However, what else is needed? Disclosure.

It is imperative in these cases of the same photo being used, is that bidders are put on notice that the picture of the property is not the actual photo, and rather a photo “representing a likeness” or a “stock photo.”

Further, it is paramount that the picture isn’t materially different than the actual property. If it is materially different, then using same photo — with a “likeness” disclaimer — is misrepresentation.

And, it is equally important that pictures are not used with a disclaimer that they are “not representative.” The only reason to do so would be to mislead a bidder.

Therefore online auction bidders need to be very alert to suspicious behavior.

  1. Is there an abundance of the same or stock photos being used, even in low quantity lots?
  2. Are there no disclaimers about the use of the same or stock photos?
  3. Is there evidence that the photos being used repeatedly represent the better condition items within that group of supposedly like items?
  4. Are photos being disclaimed as “not representative” of the actual item?

Can online auctioneers use the same photos for different items? Indeed they can; however, proper and honest disclosure is mandatory.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.