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Last Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006, 12:27 GMT
eBay contact lens case dismissed
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eBay deny aiding and abetting the sale of contact lenses
Charges that online auction firm eBay aided the illegal sale of contact lenses have been dismissed.

Regulatory body the General Optical Council offered no evidence at court in London after being advised eBay could not be made to monitor its listings.

eBay denied aiding and abetting illegal lens sales, arguing it removed any adverts on its site in August 2005, as soon as it was aware of the problem.

By law, lenses must be sold by a registered optician or doctor.

Hopefully the public is also now more aware of the risks of buying and wearing contact lenses from unregulated sellers
Peter Coe
General Optical Council registrar

The General Optical Council (GOC) had said it spotted more than 200 lenses for sale on the site and first issued eBay with a summons over the alleged sales in August 2005.

The criminal prosecution was being brought at City of London Magistrates under the Opticians Act 1989.

However, following legal advice that eBay were covered in the matter by a provision under European law, the council decided to offer no evidence at the eleventh hour.

GOC registrar Peter Coe said: "The council took action on this issue because of the dangers to consumers buying and wearing contact lenses which have not been fitted by a qualified professional.

"We recognise that eBay has put in place listing policies addressing these issues and appears to be ensuring that unlawful auctions of contact lenses are removed from the website.

"Hopefully the public is also now more aware of the risks of buying and wearing contact lenses from unregulated sellers."

'Third party vigilance'

He added that the case had highlighted a loophole in laws designed for public protection.

"We feel that it is an unreasonable burden for a regulator, with limited resources, to have to monitor the millions of listings on auction websites.

"In effect, we would have to notify the website of each individual instance of an illegal sale in order for it to be de-listed."

eBay said the case reinforced its position that as an "information society service provider", its duty is simply to remove illegal sale notices from its site when it is made aware of them rather than to comb through it for them.

An eBay legal spokesman said the firm had an "extensive notice and take down programme to try to ensure that illegal activity doesn't take place through its website".

Fashion lenses

However, he added: "It relies on the vigilance of third parties, including rights owners and prosecuting authorities, to identify illegal items and contact eBay.

"Illegal activity via eBay's website is transparent to those who are expert in their field and allows the relevant prosecuting authority or rights owner to chase down the perpetrators."

If found guilty eBay would could have faced a fine of up to 2,500 per charge.

Rules restricting the sale of lenses to a registered optician or a doctor apply to fashion lenses, such as those which give the wearer a different eye colour, as well as those prescribed to correct sight problems.

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