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French watchdog to take eBay to court

Auction site accused of failing to protect users

Ebay logo

France’s auction watchdog is taking eBay to court, arguing the internet auctioneer does not do enough to  protect consumers.

The regulatory authority, called the Council of Sales, said on Monday that eBay’s French site should be held to the same standards as France’s auction houses, which need a special permit from authorities, partly to ensure consumers are protected.

In a statement, eBay’s French branch, eBay.fr, said the legal action was ‘totally unjust.’ The French site has argued for years that it should not be subject to the same regulations as France’s auctioneers.


eBay.fr says it is merely an intermediary, not a traditional auction house, because customers put objects up for sale themselves, and because the site is not involved in negotiating contracts or in delivery and payment.

‘eBay has invented a new way of buying and selling, which has been adopted by 10 million French people, and which is not at all the same as that of auction houses,’ it said.

The Council of Sales, whose members are state-appointed, said it was not trying to crack down on online auctions.

Internet is ‘fabulous tool’

eBay ‘has been an extraordinary success, which we recognize,’ said Ariane Chausson, the council’s spokeswoman. ‘We recommend that all auctioneers do sales on the internet, because it’s a fabulous tool.’

But the regulatory authority hopes a judge will rule that eBay.fr is an auction house like any other. It argues that eBay.fr currently has an unfair advantage because it avoids strict regulations set out in a 2000 law.

Council officials said after studying eBay.fr carefully for more than three years, they had compiled a list of complaints.


In one case, it said, a buyer who expected to purchase an 18th century painting actually received a piece of wood with a photocopy pasted onto it. In other cases, it said, sellers advertised pieces they did not actually own, using pictures cut out from auction catalogues.

Fakes are a big problem, the watchdog said, especially with African or Chinese art. In other cases, sellers never send the object to the buyer, it said. The council also said tax evasion is a problem among eBay users.

eBay does not publish profit figures in France but says it is the country’s No. 1 e-commerce site, with 10 million members. eBay Inc., whose headquarters is in San Jose, California, is the world’s biggest online auction site, with 248 million registered users.

Car auctions

The case against eBay is the second such legal attack from the Council of Sales. Last month, it took similar action against an online car auction site called Carsat.

eBay also has legal issues in the United States.

In a New York court last month, a lawyer for Tiffany & Co. accused eBay of allowing the sale of tens of thousands of pieces of counterfeit Tiffany jewelry. A lawyer for eBay blamed Tiffany for failing to protect its own trademarks by notifying eBay when it spots sales that seem suspicious.

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