Chicago Tribune reveals Auctioneer vs eBay battle from the front lines.

An article in the Chicago Tribune reveals the Auctioneer vs eBay battle from the front lines.

GavelvsTA

The Tribune article details with specific clarity the unfair and abusive nature of the State of Pennsylvania's prosecution of honest eBay small business owners. Legislation in Pennsylvania has been sponsored by a small group of politically savvy and powerful special interest groups (Auctioneers). 

When Pennsylvania prosecutors proceeded with these cases... "in my opinion" they crossed the line from protectors of the people to being nothing more than hired thugs, attempting to close down small business owners because the business they have built may threaten the profits of more established businesses.  

To suggest regulation in any State in the Union of eBay sellers, consignment or not, by a board of Auctioneers who are not elected officials is ludicrous.

Read the story below and try to  understand how anyone could think the Auctioneers are trying to protect the consumer.  Show me a story in print from anywhere which details fraud perpetrated by an eBay Trading Post or Trading Assistant in a consignment transaction with a consignee.  There is no basis in fact to any of the spin which the Auction Industry has tried to place upon the eBay consignment businesses.

When will anyone else point out these facts? 

(preceeding is simply a statement of opinion) Below is fact... 

State Regulation of Online Biz Opens Can of Worms

"All the same laws that already apply to every other company already apply to those online businesses," said Catherine England, a spokesperson for eBay, based in San Jose, Calif. "We just think that any legislation that targets business based on the medium in which they sell their products is unfair."

Three years ago, when Mary Jo Pletz stumbled onto the job of selling goods online for other people, she thought she had found the perfect job for her family life.

Her daughter, then 6 months old, had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Pletz needed to quit her job as a dental hygienist and work from her home in Walnutport, Pa., about 70 miles north of Philadelphia.For two years, selling what she said was "just about anything that can come through the door" on eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) the job proved accommodating and profitable, making enough to help her husband pay the bills.

Auctioneer or Pawnbroker?

She could not have known that her perfect job would result in prosecution by the state, the forced closure of her business and the expenditure of thousands of dollars in lawyer's fees. It also would plunge her into an ongoing debate about whether such online sellers should be licensed as auctioneers, pawnbrokers, something else altogether, or not at all.

"It's horrible," said Pletz, 33, who ran her company out of her garage until a state agent visited right after Christmas 2006. "I didn't ever think of myself as an auctioneer. I had sold on eBay before for myself. Why wouldn't I be able to sell for someone else and make a fee?"

It's a question that has been asked nationwide in recent years as states struggle to figure out what to do with the still-emerging digital marketplace.

New Regulations

A survey last year by the online auction newsletter auctionbytes.com found that only two states -- New Hampshire and Kansas -- have said people selling goods online for someone else have to register with the state. (Kansas requires it only in the case of new merchandise.) However, at least seven other states -- Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin -- have considered such regulations, as Pennsylvania is doing. In every case, the states have backed down in the face of opposition, primarily from eBay, the widely used online auction site.

"There's no real easy way to set up new regulations for a new field like this," said Ina Steiner, editor of auctionbytes.com. "But any state that would try to make eBay sellers regulated as auctioneers is really like a square peg in a round hole."

Traditional auctioneers and some states contend that with rising complaints of online sales fraud, regulating companies, particularly drop-off stores, only makes sense.

"We feel that it's important that they be regulated so consumers have piece of mind," said Chris Longley, a spokesperson for the National Auctioneers Association, based in Overland Park, Kan. "Public trust is being lost because of the fraud involved in Internet auctions."

'Unfair' Legislation

Pennsylvania's debate began late in 2006 when Pletz and Barry Fallon, former owner of an I Sold It on eBay store in Harrisburg, Pa., were visited by state agents investigating their businesses.

They originally were cited by the state in April for auctioneering without a license in efforts that supporters believe are test cases before the state goes after hundreds more people like them if they are successful.

After a fall legislative effort to pass a compromise failed when eBay's lobbyist objected, the state refiled charges on Dec. 12. This time it added a charge of operating an auction company without a license. Pletz and Fallon face fines of up to US$2,000 if convicted.

"All the same laws that already apply to every other company already apply to those online businesses," said Catherine England, a spokesperson for eBay, based in San Jose, Calif. "We just think that any legislation that targets business based on the medium in which they sell their products is unfair."

Officials with Pennsylvania's Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, which is prosecuting Pletz and Fallon, said the two aren't allowed to sell for someone else because they don't have an auctioneer's license.

'A Clash of Cultures'

"We're a complaint-driven organization, and complaints were filed" that alleged they were running auctions without a license, said Peter Marks, executive deputy chief counsel for the board.

However, the state's 20th Century auctioneer law was not drawn up for the 21st Century jobs that Pletz and Fallon were doing before they were forced to close their businesses.

Currently, the state law -- similar to laws in about two dozen other states that license traditional auctioneers -- requires that would-be auctioneers either work as an apprentice for two years or get 20 credit hours of college course work in auctioneering. Some of that course work includes learning how to do the auctioneer's chant, something online sellers say is pointless for their work.

Fallon and other online sellers believe the hard-line approach from the state board is the result of simple competitive pressure, with auctioneers worried that they're losing business.

"It's a clash of cultures," said Fallon, 61, who closed his store after the state began its prosecution, "with one side fearful of something they don't understand, trying to stymie something they can't fathom."

Protecting Consumers

Wylie Rittenhouse, a member of the state's Board of Auctioneer Examiners and a longtime auctioneer himself, disagrees.

"Competition isn't the problem; it's concern for consumers. We want to protect them," Rittenhouse said.

The nine-member State Board of Auctioneer Examiners, which would decide Fallon and Pletz's cases, is made up primarily of traditional auctioneers like Rittenhouse, some of whom have online sites but none of whom are strictly online sellers as Fallon or Pletz were.

"It's like giving the buggy-whip manufacturers the power to decide if the new-fangled automobile should be made," Fallon said with a laugh.

© 2008 McClatchy-Tribune News Service. All rights reserved.
© 2008 ECT News Network. All rights reserved.

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