EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 894 - November 19, 2004     1 of 9

Update: eBay's Modifies 'Offensive Items' Policy

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eBay updated its Offensive Items policy on Wednesday to prohibit sellers from listing racially or ethnically offensive items on the site. eBay will allow historic collectibles like Black Americana to be listed, but not reproductions of those items.

In addition, sellers are prohibited from using insensitive language to describe the items. eBay's policy explains, "For example, sellers may not use offensive words and phrases such as "Jap" or "Nigger" in the title or description of their listing, even if that word is part of the proper name or trademark of the item. Sellers may, however, display an image of such historical items within their listing even if the offensive word is plainly visible within the historical item."

eBay's policy further states, "Sellers may use such words and phrases in the title and description of their listings within media categories such as Books, Movies and Music, provided that the offensive words are actually part of the title of the listed item."

When contacted for comment, collectibles expert Terry Kovel, author of many books with her husband Ralph Kovel, including Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price List 2005, asked if eBay had a list of terms that would fall under the new policy changes. "They need a list," she said.

"If you are talking about old things, you have to use the old vocabulary," Kovel said.

Kovel did not think eBay's new policy changes would affect collectors. There's no way to police that, she said.

eBay relies on its users to report items that violate its policies, and does not appear to offer sellers an appeals process when they disagree with such decisions. The Offensive Items policy will likely add to the amount of "snitching" that goes on by users, self-proclaimed "eBay police" and sellers' competitors.

eBay recently pulled an auction for a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich purportedly bearing the image of the Virgin Mary. eBay told journalists it was removed because it does not allow items intended as a joke. When the auction received worldwide media attention, eBay reversed its decision and allowed the sandwich to be relisted.

This is not the first time eBay has modified its Offensive Items policy. In 2001, eBay banned any items containing the words World Trade Center, WTC, Twin Towers, Pentagon or September 11, after it consulted with the government of New York.

However, it did allow "positive" commemorative items relating to the 9-11 terrorist attacks to be sold in its "Auction for America" charity listings.

About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to

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