Update of Information on eBay-APS Arrangements: November 2, 2003

After some recent postings on StampChat, I followed up on some of the questions with Bob Lamb, Executive Director of the APS and the principal interface between APS and eBay in establishing the process for disciplining stamp offerings on eBay.

My first question concerned whether the SCW reviews at this time included all postings which could be accessed from ebay.com (the US site that most of us use).  I was attempting to determine whether all the offerings on ebay.com (including items originally submitted in Australia - ebay.com.au, Canada - ebay.ca, and United Kingdom - ebay.com.uk) are subject to the complaint review process (complaint to SafeHarbor, forwarding to Stamp Community WatchGroup, and then on to APS).  I was concerned that the process would find it difficult to withhold reports of items originally submitted on the Australia, Canada, and United Kingdom sites from being included in the complaint process.

I was told that APS is "not getting material submitted to [them] from foreign sites at this time."   A telephone contact this morning reported that sellers outside the US had been contacted but there was no indication that the sellers had not originally listed on the US ebay.com site. On the other hand, the currency of the offering had not attracted any attention either.

At the moment, I can only speculate that the currency of the offering indicates the site on which the listing was originally made.  This works fine except for Canada where listers can "*  Choose your Currency [US$ or C$]. If you list in C$, your listing will appear on eBay Canada in C$ and on eBay.com in C$ (with a converted US$ equivalent in parenthesis). Listing in C$ is the best way to target fellow Canadian bidders."  For the moment, I conclude that eBay has found a way to avoid passing on questionable listings made originally on non-US sites probably based on currency  but does include all listings made on the US site without regard to the country of origin.  There may be some other way than using the currency.

I also found that some questionable offerings are being eliminated without action due to the very low value of the offering.  It appears to me to be an appropriate action in the interest of cost-benefit but we do need to find some way to assure that long term abusers aren't permitted to sell 100s of low-priced items below the radar screen.

Another question I asked was to confirm that APS does expect to collect return postage for items submitted for the free APEX certificates after a challenge.  Yes, they do charge for return postage even though they will continue to provide free certificates.  I was told that only a few items have been submitted to APEX under the provisions and that none of them had been as advertised on eBay.

**Finally, there is a possibility of a conference or similar session with eBay within a couple of weeks or so.  I think it would be helpful if we put together a good list of the open questions such as the one which I addressed above (about which I still have questions) to close some of the open holes in the discussion. I think we would have a good chance of getting them addressed by eBay (as opposed to some of our past attempts to get eBay to talk to us).  If no one minds, I'll try to draft a suitable list from questions which arise over the next few days.  (I don't think I'm ready to go back to find any that have been previously posted - I'm busy with a few other chores.)  I'll post the questions on my website so that people can see how the question has been addressed and help me edit it so that it does capture our intent.**

Questions for APS regarding its support of eBay stamp offerings.

Note: As a result of the discussions on David Frick's StampChat Board on the weekend starting October 25, 2003, I consolidated the questions raised regarding the eBay-APS relationship which has been recently announced.  In the process I reviewed all available materials on both the internet (eBay at ebay.com and the American Philatelic Society at www.stamps.org) and in the journal of the APS, American Philatelist.  I organized the questions into four categories.  This morning, I finally got a e-mail off to Robert Lamb, Executive Director of the APS.  He answered very promptly with answers for all of my questions.  The following is the result of my questions and Bob's answers.  I apologize for anything left out or left unanswered.  The open issues which I have subsequently discussed with Bob are whether eBay's plans have evolved to include all eBay sites.  [See added note below.]
Jim Watson
APS Representative
eBay Users' Stamp Club

Questions of Process:
Q1.  As we understand it, the process is initiated by any eBay user who submits a complaint regarding an offering using the link entitled "Report listing violations or problems with another eBay member" at the bottom of the "Selling Stamps" page or any other standard report.  (This page is accessed by following the Help link found at the top of most, if not all, of eBay pages. Help>A-Z Index tab>S link>Selling Stamps link.) This report is received by the eBay Safe Harbor personnel and, upon recognition as a stamp related item and the complaint regards compliance with the Code of Conduct, it is forwarded to the " Stamp Community Watchgroup ", a number of whom (8) have already been selected by eBay and all but two of whom are APS members.  If two of the " Stamp Community Watchgroup " agree that the item does not comply with "The APS "Code of Conduct" for selling philatelic items on eBay," the complaint will be forwarded to to the APS staff who will assess the complaint.  If APS staff agrees, the seller will be notified of the complaint and its nature.  The seller will be told that the listing must be either defended (e. g. submission of an existing expertization for the item), corrected (e.g. changed description),  withdrawn within 24 hours depending on the nature of the complaint, or, alternatively, appeal the question to eBay.  The target for completion of this assessment is within 24 hours after the complaint. Failure by the seller to comply within 24 hours will result in notification to eBay that the item does not comply with the requirements.  eBay will then, at its discretion, promptly delete the item.  eBay expects deletion would be the normal course of events.  Lots requiring expertisation can be resubmitted upon successful expertisation.  APS plans to make APEX certificates available at no cost (other than return postage) for such removed lots.  A pattern of continuing non compliance by the seller would be viewed as grounds for permanent suspension by eBay.  Does this correctly portray the procedure?
A1.  You have done your homework and yes, you seem to understand the process well.

Q2.  Is it clear that the process starts when a user, whether a member of the Stamp Community Watchgroup or not, submits a complaint within the scope of the Code of Conduct to Safe Harbor using the link noted above?
A2.  We are not involved in the process until an item is referred to us from the SCW for review.  eBay would have to address what happens earlier in the process and specifically how an item gets to the SCW.

Questions of Regulations:
Q1.  Do you contemplate that the "Code of Conduct" would be revised, particularly regarding the part "I agree to abide by all federal, state, and local laws relating to philatelic matters" to encompass all eBay users and sites  whether selling or buying?
A1.  From the APS point of view we expect anyone buying or selling stamps to abide by all applicable laws. Our relationship with eBay at this point is a narrow one which only deals with the selling side. Therefore the code of conduct we have worked out with eBay for eBay transactions deals only with the areas in which we and eBay are involved jointly. Our Board of Vice Presidents considers infractions by our members against standards established by the entire APS Code of Ethics.  [See also note added below.]

Q2.  Would one have to back-mark a certified United States Scott #3 as a reproduction? If not, what part of the APS/eBay "Code of Conduct" applies? Could this be handled by eliminating items which are official government reprints?
A2.   Normally, I hesitate to speak for eBay or to interpret its policies.  However, this is a subject we have discussed at some length. Therefore I feel quite confident in saying there is no requirement to mark reprints. The marking requirement, which the APS Board approved for StampStore, and which I believe eBay has also adopted, applies to forgeries and facsimiles of stamps. The so-called "reproductions," which we sometimes see offered on eBay, are typically what we would consider as "facsimiles" and would require marking.

Q3.  It is clear that modifications such as reperforations, and, to the extent they might be identified, regums are covered;  however, how do unidentified defects (e.g. tears, thins, scuffs) or fake cancels, grills, or overprints enter into the criteria?  Are such items required to be described?  Do visible but unrevealed defects qualify for returns and refunds?
A3.   The marking requirement does not extend to condition. We would expect "truth in advertising" by a seller would expect all significant defects to be noted in the listing but marking is be required.
         Fake cancels, grills or overprints would require marking since they are alterations of a basic philatelic item which could mislead a buyer, intentionally or unintentionally.

Q4.  Is there a conclusion on how "illegals" as defined by the U.P.U. are to be treated?  Are they already included?  If so, how?
A4.  The so-called "illegals" are not covered by the present policy. Illegals represent a very complex issue. The UPU list of "Illegals" is not one category of stamps, but several and it may be that the Society will eventually have to take a different position on each category. We are going to have to do more research before the Society can take an official stand on "illegals." But they are not covered by the present policy.

Q5.  Are actions underway to expand eBay's list of approved expertisers to enhance the ability of the non-United States users to comply with the Code of Conduct? Has anyone considered the list of expertisers on the AskPhil site of the Collector's Club of Chicago at http://www.askphil.org/b35.htm ?
A5.   I don't know whether eBay plans to expand its list of expertizers. In practice we would accept certificates from any reputable expertizers to prove the genuineness of a listed stamp. So far this has not been an issue. We only send out questions to sellers for items where there is "a high degree of probability" that the item is misrepresented. No seller has claimed to have a certificate of any sort for the material questioned.

Q6. What is included in the definition or forgeries which require backstamping?  For example, are stamps with fake cancels, grills, and overprints considered to be forgeries and therefore require backstamped identification to be sold on eBay?
A6.   On StampStore the APS would require all of the items you enumerated to be marked on the stamp and indicated in the listing.

Questions of Scope:
Q1.  Do the requirements apply to all eBay sites?  For example, are ebay.uk and ebay.de included?
A1.   You have to ask eBay that one. I don't know.
 [See also note added below.]

Q2.  Do the requirements apply to all items which are philatelic, e. g. are used picture postcards listed under postcard categories included?
A2.   We review any philatelic item which is referred to us by the SCW. So far nothing has been referred to us that we have not had the expertise to deal with. But if we were to get something we were not qualified to examine, we would simply inform eBay of that fact. On your example of post cards we could speak to stamps and cancels, we would consider autographs to beoutside the scope of our agreement with eBay and we would so inform eBay.

General Questions:
Q1.  Is it your understanding that this is the way that eBay understands the process/system?
A1.  Answered above.

Q2.  One of the concerns is whether the APS can adequately assess world-wide compliance.  This has several sub questions: a. does the  " Stamp Community Watchgroup " and the APS staff have the skills or access to the skills to respond properly to the expected range of querries?
So far we have gotten a couple of questions which are outside the scope of our agreement with eBay and we have simply informed eBay of that. But there have been no referrals to date which we could not find the expertise to deal with. If we were to get one, we would simply inform eBay of that fact.

b. Will there be enough resources for both the SCW and the APS to keep up with the workload?  
A2b.  I think I can speak for eBay in saying that we both think the work we are doing is important for protecting collectors and the hobby and we would like to see it continue. It is true that the workload is heavy and if it were to grow, we would have to find new ways deal with it.

c. Are there people in the processing staffs with language skills sufficient to encompass all the eBay sites?
A2c.  We have not gotten any questions referred to us in any foreign language. Though we have adequate skills in the major west European languages, we are not equipped to respond to questions on a timely basis in other languages.

d. Will ways have to be found to meet the needs of a truly world-wide approach? e  Are such changes underway?
A2d and A2e.  We have not discussed "a truly world-wide approach" with eBay.

Q3.  Is it practical or desirable to expand the breadth of the Stamp Community Watchgroup?  Would an expert from the International Association of Stamp Experts at http://www.aiep.net/ but not an APS member be an appropriate addition?  Why is membership in APS deemed a significant requirement?  Would not recognized expertise, judgment, and integrity be sufficient?
A3.  We consider it important that the members of the SCW be APS members because they are subject to our code of ethics. There are certainly a variety of skills which go into making a SCW member, but the composition of that group is up to eBay.

*As noted in the introduction, there were still some open questions regarding the breadth of coverage of the plan by eBay.  Robert Lamb did follow up with the person with whom he has been working at eBay. He then sent me the following response (paraphrased to fit the context) regarding eBay plans as related to him.
Both eBay and APS are pleased with the program so far.  However, both consider this to be in a test phase at this point and would like to get more experience under our belts before we take on new mountain tops. If it works to everyone's satisfaction, eBay would like to expand it.

Further, eBay and APS amended the "APS Code of Conduct for Transactions on eBay" to remove the words "Federal, State and Local." The wording now has the seller agree "to abide by all laws relating to philatelic matters."  This change will allow the "Code of Conduct" to be applied internationally.