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