France Bids for Closer Regulation of eBay

Dennis Faas's picture

A French watchdog is attempting to close down eBay's site in the country, claiming it is failing to protect consumers.

The Council of Sales, which regulates auctions, argues that the site should have to follow the same rules as 'bricks and mortar' auction houses in France. These rules, passed in 2000 and designed to clamp down on scams, require all auctioneers to have a government permit.

The Council says it's put together a series of complaints about shady practices by eBay sellers, including selling a photocopy as an original 18th century painting, or simply scanning images from auction catalogues and then taking money for the item, despite not owning it. There is also concern about tax evasion among sellers.

The case will centre on the definition of an auctioneer. eBay claim they are merely an intermediary that brings buyers and sellers together. They official line on the matter has been, "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."

The Council rejects this argument. Chairman Christian Giacomotto asked reporters "What is the difference? They charge a commission to the seller and a commission to the buyer. These people cannot say they are responsible for nothing at all." (Source:

Council spokeswoman Ariane Chausson said it wasn't a case of being anti-Internet: "We recommend that all auctioneers do sales on the Internet, because it's a fabulous tool." (Source:

The Council has applied to a French court to force eBay to follow its rules. If the case is upheld and eBay don't comply, it could face fines or even arrests of any executives on French soil.

eBay has around 10 million registered users in France and says the country is its fourth biggest market.

Internet firms will always face tensions between the global market online and country-specific regulations, as Internet casino firms have discovered. But on the face of it, eBay's argument that they aren't running the same business as traditional auctioneers seems unlikely to stand up in court.

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