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eBay blocks AuctionWatch

The leading online auctioneer said it is blocking AuctionWatch's access to eBay.

eBay's battle against online auction search engines has gotten nasty.

The leading online auctioneer said this morning it is blocking AuctionWatch's access to eBay. Technically, eBay will program its servers to ignore requests for information received from Internet protocol (IP) addresses known to be used by AuctionWatch.

"We are essentially putting up signs and telling them no trespassing," said eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove.

The hardball tactic follows several rounds of fruitless negotiations between the feuding companies.

AuctionWatch launched a service last month that allows buyers to search for items listed for sale on numerous auction sites. The universal search engine scans for items across a spectrum of online auction houses, including eBay, Yahoo, and Amazon.com, and arranges the listings based on the time bidding ends.

eBay has voiced numerous objections to AuctionWatch's service, and others, on several grounds. eBay says it slows down bidding and selling on its site, often provides incomplete and inaccurate information, and violates its intellectual property.

eBay's battle with AuctionWatch has included written warnings that its access would be cut off if AuctionWatch did not agree to license eBay's listing information.

"At this point, we feel we have no choice but to exercise the self-help measures outlined in our [previous] letters to you," eBay vice president and general counsel Michael Jacobson wrote in a letter yesterday to AuctionWatch. Jacobson added that eBay intends to block AuctionWatch's search engine and none of its other features.

AuctionWatch chief executive Rodrigo Sales said his company is examining a number of legal, technical, and business options it could take to counter eBay.

Sales also said his company will appeal to its users to put pressure on eBay, noting that the search engine is a popular feature on its site. According to Sales, more than 500,000 click-throughs have been passed on to auction sites whose products appeared on AuctionWatch.

Other online auctioneers have not objected to AuctionWatch or similar services because of the additional traffic it generated. eBay, however, has a market share of about 70 percent and has little to gain by having its listings appear elsewhere on the Net.

"From a business perspective, eBay's not going to care what our position is," Sales said. "The only thing that's going to get eBay to change its mind is pressure from its user base."

Putting pressure on eBay might be more effective that any legal action AuctionWatch might take. Rich Gray, an attorney with Outside General Counsel of Silicon Valley, said that while the law is still unclear on such issues, eBay might have the upper hand legally once it blocks AuctionWatch access to its site.

"You can make a good policy argument that AuctionWatch and these other aggregators are doing a good thing, the pro-consumer thing," Gray said. "But I don't think there's a good legal argument to force eBay to let people in if it has the technical capability within its own site to keep them out."

eBay has taken a hardline stance against AuctionWatch, but other services such as AuctionFerret.com, OverBid.com, and Bidder's Edge continue to post eBay listings. At eBay's request, Bidder's Edge stopped posting eBay listings in September but resumed again on Tuesday.

Pursglove said today that eBay is considering blocking their search engines."We will treat all the aggregators essentially the same."

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