Information Products

Q: "I am self-publishing an e-book on how to get better results when bidding on eBay and beat the snipers. Is this something I could sell on eBay?"

A: Self-published material has something of a schizophrenic life on eBay. An actual printed book, self-published or otherwise, can be listed in the Books section on eBay. Your e-book, however, is likely to be considered an information product subject to eBay's Compilation and Information Sales Policy ( pages.ebay.com/help/policies/compilation.html). Under this policy, your e-book must:

• Not contain any cross-category information (for example, an e-book on "How to Detect Forgeries in Ancient Roman Coins" might be problematic if people searching in the "ancient coins" category are likely to stumble on it)

• Be listed only in the Everything Else > Information Products category

• Not be combined as a bonus item with any other listing

• Not contain any specific brand names or keywords unless the listing is offering the item in question

• Not contain excessive use of keywords to describe the contents of the compilation or informational media

• Not offer information on how to either purchase specific items or receive them for free, outside of eBay

• Not provide listings of URLs that offer buyers the opportunity to purchase items outside of eBay

Offensive Materials

Q: "In searching randomly on eBay, I find lots of neo-Nazi and Aryan Nation items. Why is it that these items do not violate eBay's Offensive Items Policy?"

A: Technically, they do, but it's often difficult to distinguish between an item of genuine historical value and an item whose sole purpose and object is to promote racist, sexist, or religious propaganda. There is also the question of permitting freedom of expression. In the spirit of a famous U.S. Supreme Court decision, the First Amendment was expressly designed to allow full and free debate of all possible viewpoints and provide "freedom for the thought we hate." The proper way to deal with speech you find improper or offensive is not to suppress it but to debate, challenge, and refute it. eBay has an Offensive Materials Policy that should be consulted in situations like these; the complete text can be found at pages.ebay.com/help/ policies/offensive.html. The portion of this policy that deals with Black Americana is particularly astute and deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

Occasionally, there may be listings of antiques or historical pieces (often referred to as "Black Americana") that, while unacceptable in today's society, are relics of an era where racially inappropriate and insensitive products were widely available. While these items are offensive to eBay and its community, eBay recognizes that such historical items find their way into museums and private collections, and serve as important tools for education about the past. eBay permits such listings of historical pieces, but at the request of community members, eBay will not permit listings of racial or ethnically inappropriate reproductions. [Emphasis in original.]

Less astute (and actually quite confusing) is the portion of eBay's Offensive Materials Policy that deals with Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, and other "hate group" memorabilia. That portion expressly prohibits sales of (among other things):

• Items that bear symbols of the Nazis, the SS, or the KKK, including authentic German World War II memorabilia such as Olympic medals that bear such marks

• Items that were owned by or affiliated with Nazi leaders

• Music or films that promote hatred and racial supremacy

• Holocaust denial books

But the policy expressly permits sales of (among other things):

• German coins and postage stamps (cancelled or otherwise) from the World War II era, regardless of markings

• World War II memorabilia that does not bear the Nazi or SS markings

• Books and movies about World War II or Nazi Germany that do not contain propaganda, even if the Nazi symbol appears on the item.

I have a lot of trouble making sense of these rules. If I am reading them correctly, then:

• A gold medal from the 1936 Berlin Olympics awarded to U.S. track and field star Jessie Owens—an African-American athlete and one of the greatest sports heroes of all time—would be barred from sale on eBay because it has swastikas on it and is therefore "Nazi propaganda" (if you have one of these, not to worry—the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and other major American museums will probably pay you a fortune for it) but

• An envelope from 1936 with a German stamp postmarked "Death to All Non-Aryans!" (in German, of course) is okay to sell on eBay because it isn't "Nazi propaganda."

It will take a better lawyer than I am to reconcile those two examples, and I sincerely hope eBay will revisit and revise its "hate group memorabilia" rules in the near future, so sellers will have better guidance in this area.

The best advice is to contact eBay and get a ruling if you're selling a Nazi-related item that is not clearly identified one way or the other in eBay's policy, and do not use a specific reference to "Nazi" or "KKK" in the item listing to avoid having the listing pulled by eBay's listing filters.

Q: "Does antique artwork that depicts rooster fighting (commonly known as 'cock fighting') violate eBay's policy against listing items that actively promote and/or glorify violent crime?"

A: The Offensive Materials Policy that eBay has established is written fairly broadly and does not specifically refer to rooster-fighting items.

The items referred to in eBay's policy are not all-inclusive; eBay specifically reserves the right "in its discretion, [to] remove items when the item or description graphically portrays violence or victims of violence, and lacks substantial social, artistic or political value." Gory photos of automobile accidents and murder scenes (except, of course, for historical photos such as those of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago) are clearly included in the sweep of this policy.

Our ancestors were not always politically correct when it came to the games and sports they indulged in—in ancient Rome, people stood in line for hours to watch condemned criminals being torn to pieces by wild animals in the Colosseum, and an ancient Roman fresco depicting such a scene could almost certainly be sold on eBay. In Shakespeare's England, a common entertainment was to watch captured bears fighting for their survival against a pack of rabid dogs. A set of Elizabethan engravings depicting scenes of bear baiting could almost certainly be sold on eBay (and actually would be worth a bloody fortune).

In the United States, rooster fighting was once quite legal, and it still is in certain foreign countries. The prohibition on rooster fighting in many states today is often driven not so much by animal rights or antiviolence concerns as it is the state's desire to control illegal gambling. For gambling of any kind to be legal in just about all states, it must be operated or regulated by the state government (or by a Native American tribal government, which is independent of state authority). Accordingly, an argument can be made that rooster fighting is not a violent crime at all, because human beings are not the intended victims of the activity (if that sounds silly, keep in mind that in every state of which I'm aware, the intentional shooting of someone's dog or cat is not legally considered murder but rather "trespass to personal property"—you can sue the shooter for damages, but you can't put him or her in jail).

The best advice is to contact eBay and get a ruling if you're selling an item that might offend some people's sensibilities and is not clearly identified one way or the other in eBay's policy. If gladiatorial combat ever comes back into vogue, though...

Real Estate

Q: "What are the rules about selling real estate on eBay? Must I be a licensed real estate broker?"

A: The Real Estate section of eBay (pages.ebayrealestate.com) is operated by eBay Real Estate Inc., an affiliate of eBay, in order to limit liability. To find the rules for selling real estate on eBay, go to pages.ebay.com/help/policies/ real-estate.html. Basically:

• You are permitted to post a classified ad for your property. Potential buyers indicate their interest by means of a contact form and negotiate directly with you.

• You are permitted to post auction-style listings for your property, but the results are not binding; they are merely an offer to purchase, subject to any and all conditions and procedures required by your state law.

• If you own title to your home jointly with your spouse (or anyone else), you cannot sell only your interest in the property on eBay; you have to sell the entire fee interest (i.e., both of your interests) on eBay, or nothing at all.

• You cannot sell someone else's property on eBay Real Estate unless you are a licensed real estate broker in the state where the property is located.

Everything Else: Researching Prohibited Items

Q: "Where can I get a comprehensive list of items that cannot be sold on eBay?"

A: Unfortunately, such a list does not exist because it's impossible to put together. The laws of many countries prohibit the sale of items that can be sold perfectly legally in the United States, and vice versa. Nobody knows them all.

The Prohibited and Restricted Items" page of the eBay website contains a list of all restricted and prohibited items for which there is an eBay policy (pages.ebay.com/help/policies/items-ov.html). You can also go to the Help section of the eBay site, click on the A-Z Index, click on "P," and then scroll down to the word "Policy," for a complete alphabetical listing of eBay's policies.

Keep in mind, though, that eBay reserves the right to pull listings if it just doesn't feel right about the item you're selling. Be careful to avoid using keywords in your listing titles that might lead eBay's search engine spiders to think (mistakenly, of course) that you are selling a prohibited or restricted item. Put up a listing the wrong way for a nineteenth-century metal sign advertising "drugs, glasses, pipes, and cigarette rolling papers," and you might find your listing pulled because eBay thinks you are selling drug paraphernalia!

 
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