S A N J O S E, Calif., May 4, 2001 -- Internet auction giant eBay Inc. is banning the sale of artifacts from Nazi Germany, the Ku Klux Klan and notorious criminals, in hopes of avoiding legal problems in other countries.
EBay had already banned items that promote hate or violence, but allowed artifacts that were more than 50 years old to be listed as "collectibles." For example, a 1921 sterling silver badge in the shape of a KKK mask was available on eBay for less than $25 Thursday.
Some Europeans Already Blocked
Users were warned not to take bids on Nazi items from people in France, Germany, Austria or Italy because of laws in those countries. Users with French- or German-language Web browsers also were blocked from searching for Nazi-related items, eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said.
The new policy, which was announced Thursday and takes effect May 17, eliminates the historical exemption and bans the items completely.
As eBay expands overseas, "we are encountering different laws and different points of view as to what constitutes illegal, offensive or inappropriate items," said Mike Jacobson, eBay's general counsel. "Given our expansion, as well as feedback we've received from our users, we reviewed our policy and concluded that these changes are appropriate."
EBay's move comes as fellow Internet giant Yahoo! Inc. is untangling itself from lawsuits brought by groups in France.
A French judge last year ordered Yahoo! to block French users from seeing listings of Nazi merchandise on its auction pages and said he would fine the company $13,000 each day it failed to comply.
Yahoo! Tangled in Lawsuits
Yahoo! said the order was impossible to carry out, but ultimately banned auctions of Nazi merchandise when it began charging users to list items on the site.
Yahoo! has asked a federal judge in San Jose to rule that French court decisions cannot be enforced on U.S. companies.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said his organization had been lobbying eBay to stop listing Nazi items for the past two years. Since eBay charges for auction listings and gets a cut of successful sales, the company is morally responsible for what is available on its massive site, Cooper said.
"There's an understanding that Wal-Mart could make money off this stuff — it chooses not to," he said. "There's been a change in the corporate culture, the corporate outlook at eBay."
EBay's new policy also bans "personal belongings, letters or artwork" by notorious murderers and items bearing the killers' names or images.
The site will still allow German coins and stamps from the 1930s and 1940s and other German memorabilia that does not bear Nazi or SS markings. Historical books or movies about Nazi Germany also can be sold, even if a swastika appears on them.