New Law: Auctioneer School For Ebayers?

    October 11, 2005
    WebProNews Staff

All around the United States, state regulators are increasingly miffed at the revenue loss due to eBay auctioneers’ insistence they don’t need to go to auctioneer school to peddle their (or somebody else’s) wares online. Every few months, another state says enough is enough and the various Sheriffs of Nottingham want their cuts.

The news has been hitting the wire since 1999 when New Hampshire became the first US state to send notice to online auctioneers that in order to avoid fines and state charges, they would have to acquire an auctioneer license.

The path to becoming a state-certified auctioneer usually involves attending a special school complete with high-speed auction-ese vocal training, passing exams, paying a fee of $200 or more, setting up an escrow/trust account, and securing expensive bonds.

Since then, Tennessee, Illinois, Ohio, and North Dakota have all looked into this online auction thing and have begun sending their own notices.

While the laws in these states exclude anyone who is selling personal items, or even retail items, the state-created definitions of auctioneer (an entity for whom the regulations were created) are certainly limited.

Illinois’ definition of auctioneer reads this way:

“Auctioneer” means a person or entity who, for another, for a fee, compensation, commission or any other valuable consideration at auction or with the intention or expectation of receiving value consideration by the means of or process of an auction or sale at auction or providing an auction service, offers, negotiates, or attempts to negotiate an auction contract, sale, purchase, or exchange of goods, chattels, merchandise, personal property, real property, or any commodity that may be lawfully kept or offered for sale by or at auction.

Notice the definition makes no differentiation between “live” auctioneers or “online” auctioneers, and hence state governments are now free move about the citizen checkbook. Online auctioneers are balking at the regulations, wondering what fast-talking abilities have to do with online auctions.

This is just the latest example of governmental sluggishness in adopting/addressing the differences between e-business and brick-and-mortar business. Google’s latest battle with publishers over copyright law is another. Only one tested case exists to determine whether online indexing is included under copyright law.

New Hampshire officials have acknowledged the difficulty in enforcing the regulations, according to Jeanne Morris.

“The board had made an attempt to take on eBay and see if we could get people who were selling things online in the state of New Hampshire to get an auctioneer’s license. We just found the business is so huge and there’s so many people involved, we’re just not equipped to enforce the law. We can’t be on top of everyone selling online,” Morris quotes New Hampshire chairman of the state Board of Auctioneers, Evelyn Lamprey, as saying.

EBay spokesman Hani Durzy, isn’t thrilled with auctioneer laws either.

“Overall, we believe these laws are redundant and unnecessary. Neither eBay nor sellers on the site are auctioneers by the traditional and statutory definitions of the term,” said Durzy.

State efforts to enforce real-world mandates in cyberspace may prove awkward at best, just as enforcing old-world mandates in new-world times can be ridiculous.

In Kentucky, it is widely known that it is illegal to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket (as reported many places, though I’ve never actually seen the law). This law was enacted when everybody rode horses and was designed to thwart horse thieves who used this method to lure somebody’s trusty steed away. Will I be cited for trying this today? Perhaps, in the unlikely event I try to steal a downtown cop’s horse and tie it to my car bumper.

At any rate, it’s becoming clear that Internet law will become the next litigious frontier for aspiring lawyers. The new century is sure to bring forth a wealth of Internet legal issues, and the attorneys who learn these ropes will be in high demand.