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Spoof site no joke for eBay

"eGray," a parody Web site that takes aim at California governor Gray Davis, has drawn the attention of auction giant eBay--and its lawyers.

A parody Web site called "eGray," which takes aim at California Governor Gray Davis, has drawn the attention of auction giant eBay--and its lawyers.

"Our attorneys will determine what the appropriate step will be," spokesman Kevin Pursglove said Friday.

The creators of the site--members of Republican candidate Bill Simon's campaign--say they plan to keep eGray.org up and running. The site closely matches eBay's look and feel, but lists "California laws for sale," and accuses Davis of pushing legislation backed by special interest groups who donated to his campaign.

"Want to get rid of the pay-for-play governor? Click here to donate to Simon for Governor," the site reads. Davis campaign representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

The Simon campaign launched the site last week as a political parody, spokesman Mark Miner said. He said they haven't heard from eBay about the site. A disclaimer on the site says it's unaffiliated with eBay.

"This is based on Gray Davis and his administration and no one else," Miner said.

But eBay has long been protective of its distinctive trademark.

"In the past we've taken similar steps when individuals or companies that have attempted to operate trading sites that we believe could dilute or infringe on eBay's intellectual properties," Pursglove said. "The most well known is probably BidBay, but we've also had communication with other sites that attempt to play off the eBay trademark or logo."

Last month, the company sent a letter to gay auction site AlternaBay, accusing the site of infringing its intellectual property. The two sides are still talking about how to resolve the issue, AlternaBay founder Ronnie Rodriguez said Friday. Earlier this year, Lego-trading site Brickbay.com changed its name after receiving a similar request from eBay.

Last year, eBay sued rival site BidBay, accusing it of trademark infringement. The two companies settled in February with BidBay agreeing to change its name to AuctionDiner.com.

"Our track record is pretty solid that we will take actions if necessary," Pursglove said.

Despite its success with commercial sites, eBay may have more trouble with eGray since political speech is usually afforded much more protection than commercial speech, experts say.

In 2000, presidential candidate Ralph Nader parodied MasterCard's "priceless" campaign, noted Neil Smith, an intellectual property attorney in San Francisco with Howard Rice. Although MasterCard sued Nader's campaign, the court denied the company's motion for a preliminary injunction against the ads, Smith said. Any challenge eBay makes against eGray is likely to meet the same fate, he said.

"This type of parody use is difficult to stop under the law," Smith said.

Most federal judges are likely to come down on the side of the First Amendment protections on political speech in a case such as this, said Carl Oppedahl, an intellectual property lawyer with Dillon, Colo.-based Oppedahl & Larson. eBay might as well take it with a sense of humor, he said.

"In a way, eBay might find this flattering that they've become the recognized way of making this political point," he said.

News.com's Margaret Kane contributed to this report.