In an intensifying battle against specialized search services, eBay, Inc. moved last Friday to deny AuctionWatch.com access to its site.
The San Jose, California-based online auctioneer took technical steps to bar AuctionWatch.com after negotiations to reach a licensing agreement suddenly collapsed.
According to published reports, eBay sent AuctionWatch.com a letter telling the company that it was no longer allowed access to its site without a licensing agreement.
“It appears that we have no choice but to exercise self-help measures to protect our interests,” wrote Michael Jacobson, eBay’s vice president general counsel.
Is The Issue Really About Public Information?
Predictably, Rodrigo Sales, AuctionWatch.com’s CEO, expressed dismay over the action and said that the company is pursuing legal action to regain access to eBay. The basis for AuctionWatch.com’s claim, he added, was that the data on eBay’s site is on the Web for anyone to see.
Bidder’s Edge, Inc., a Burlington, Massachusetts online auction service, is using the same rationale to justify its decision to ignore eBay’s cease and desist order — with which it had initially complied.
“We made the decision to list eBay again in the best interests of Bidder’s Edge’s users, the online auction community and everyone who believes that the free exchange of information is essential for the success of commerce on the Web,” said James Carney, Bidder’s Edge president and CEO.
While both CEOs make it sound as if they are defending freedom of speech, motherhood and apple pie, I don’t see it that way.
All About Money
To me, the bottom line in this squabble is all about money and property rights.
In a statement, eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said his company took the action against AuctionWatch.com because it was pulling information directly from eBay’s database and displaying that material next to items from rival auction services.
Can you really blame eBay?
Think about it. Suppose you were a brick-and-mortar auctioneer and every time you held a public auction, two guys walked into your building equipped with cell phones. Then every time something went up for bid, they called your competitor one block away to check his prices and told the bidders in your auction that they could get the same item cheaper down the street.
Would you let them stay? Or would you have a right to toss them out?
On the other hand, using the same scenario, suppose the two guys with the cell phones agreed to pay you a fee to compensate you for your periodic loss of business. Depending on the size of the fee, you might consider letting them stay.
Licensing Fee Is The Issue
It seems to me that the reason AuctionWatch.com is being blocked from eBay has nothing to do with free access to the Internet and everything to do with its unwillingness to agree to pay what eBay believes is a reasonable charge for access to its site.
After all, it must be shocking to be faced with the prospect of paying for something you were used to getting for free.
No Free Ride
As far as I’m concerned, it is time for AuctionWatch.com and Bidder’s Edge to get off of their soap boxes and negotiate a fair licensing fee to use eBay’s property — or simply shut up. What do you think? Let’s talk about it.