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A San Diego judge certified a class action lawsuit against eBay on Nov. 17, paving the way for potential changes in how the online giant conducts business. The lawsuit, originally filed against eBay last April, contends that the San Jose, Calif., Internet auctioneer was responsible for the authenticity of goods sold on its site. The case was brought by six plaintiffs who had purchased phony sports memorabilia on eBay; a seventh plaintiff joined the case in October. Judge Linda Quinn, presiding over the superior court case, has offered both sides the chance to present oral arguments — a standard procedure in class actions that occasionally leads the judge to overturn the class action status, especially if new evidence is introduced that wasn’t previously considered. EBay associate general counsel Rob Chesnut said eBay plans to take advantage of the offer for an oral argument though he declined to comment further. “It’s just a tentative ruling,” Chesnut says. But the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Jim Krause, argued that class action certifications are rarely overturned. “If you looked at the odds, it’s extremely remote that the oral argument changes the judge’s opinion,” says Krause. “The ruling has been made; the class has been certified; the motion has been granted.” Still, Krause is a long way off from winning big, not to mention transforming the online auction business altogether. The latest ruling does not necessarily mean that the judge supports the case made by the plaintiffs, who argue that eBay should be held responsible for the forged autographs on bats and baseballs they purchased. Their case grew out of a national FBI investigation targeting sellers of phony sports memorabilia. Quinn has set a meeting for next month at which both parties will set a trial date. EBay has, over the years, studiously avoided calling itself an “auction house” because of the host of complicated laws that govern auctions. Because it does not normally maintain an inventory, write descriptions for the items sold on its site or handle payments, eBay does differ from offline auction houses in certain crucial ways. Nevertheless, the question of whether eBay is protected from the content posted on its site falls into a gray area. “All these forgeries and stuff that are going on � I still have doubts whether [fraudulent sellers] are back on [eBay], under different names,” says Henry Camp, a plaintiff from Japser, Tenn. “They’re providing a place for this.” EBay’s stock plunged 20 percent to $34.50, a loss of $8.94 in trading Monday. The eBay class action certification, along with Monday’s decision by a French judge that Yahoo must block its French customers from accessing Nazi-related goods on the site, hint at a potentially significant shift in how online auctions are regulated. As eBay’s fifth birthday passes, it and other auction sites are finding it difficult to maintain their hands-off attitude as they expand both abroad and within the U.S. Related Articles from The Industry Standard: EBay Bids Up Its Revenues Keep It Down, I’m Trying to Watch eBay EBay’s Rose-Colored Glasses Copyright � 2000 The Industry Standard

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