Comments For Entry #16

Live 8 tickets! Geldof growls and eBay cowers(Comments RSS)

Bob Geldof is cross that some winners of tickets to the live8 concert decided to try to sell them on

The BBC reported:-
Geldof had launched an attack on the site and the sellers, calling it "sick profiteering".

And he even got government ministers and MPs rallying round, decrying eBay's willingness to allow these auctions on their site.

Now some people have claimed that this behaviour was ripping off the charity. Nonsense. The charity had received its piece of the revenue when they took their slice of each �2 SMS text message. Apparently eBay was even prepared to donate back their commissions on the ticket sales, thus providing potentially even more revenue for the event. I admit that this sounds very lame and indeed eBay were ethically digging themslves into an even deeper hole here. My point is that the charity was not losing out.

Geldof is probably right. It is profiteering, and it is a bit sick. His intention was that well-meaning competition winners should be the ones attending the concert, not those who had been prepared to pay a large amount of money. Apart from the two quid SMS charge, the tickets were meant to be free, so trading them seems to go against the sprit of the thing.

So what did he do? In a spirit of Moral People Power, he called upon ordinary eBay users to scupper the auctions with ridiculously high bids. And they did. Hurrah to them!

So what did eBay do? They suspended (indefinitely, it seems) the accounts of the naughty but well-meaning scupperers, because they were wrong to sabotage perfectly legal and legitimate auctions. Oh, and then eBay banned the auctions too because they felt they weren't right after all.

It seems to me to be really sad and unfair that the losers are the ones who followed the leadership of Bob Geldof, a Knight of the Realm. (I bet he did not lose his ebay account.) They broke the letter of the eBay Law, sure. They were perhaps a little foolish or impetuous to get stuck in like that. But they meant well.

Even though eBay changed its position on the appropriateness of the Live8 ticket auctions, they have remained thus far steadfast to their position on the eBay account suspensions. So under moral pressure, no more poignantly placed than in the high-bidding sabotage bids, they are prepared to bend their own rules. But for the people at the axel of the moral argument there is no leniency.

EBay UK will capitulate for the sake of public pressure but not for the sake of the moral argument. Do I hear cash tills at the altar of eBay? Do I need to offer the opinion that this is pathetic?

Here's the link to the squirmy, Blair-like back-down announcement from eBay:-

And here's the full dirt at the BBC:-

Another link that may be interesting:-

Apparently the Live8 concert tickets are marked up as "not transferrable". This means that you may not transfer them, as part of the terms of accepting them. I understand that selling a ticket really does include transferring it. Therefore you are not allowed to sell it. And I believe it is a legal "not allowed to" here.

So if it is indeed a breach of the terms of the receipt of the tickets to re-sell them, how then does eBay justify its claim that it is not illegal to do so? Maybe I am being dumb but when propositional logic and the English language fail to agree with eBay, who is mistaken?

16/6/2005 2:59 PM

The question is over selling things that are illegal. It is not Ebay's business to worry about your breach of contract. They are simply an agent in the business.

Anyway, I think it's immoral to impose restrictions on what someone can do with something that is no longer yours (with the exception of copyright/patents). You sell something, it's not yours. Don't like what someone might do with it? Don't sell it. Don't like it that someone's making a profit on it? Get your prices right next time.

Tim Almond

16/6/2005 3:22 PM

I'm no whinging liberal pansie. While I welcome the comments posted here by others I express the right to comment on or disagree quite strongly with them.

I this case I take issue wth the thrust of Tim's comment.

I acknowledge the point about the legal niceties. That was not really the thrust of my argument, and while using legal arguments to support a case is fine, the need to retreat to them so soon is a sign of a moral vacuum, in my view.

Is it *really* okay to act as agent in a trade when you know that the items have this "not transferrable" condition on them? Phew, that's terrible.

And to turn the tables and claim that the immoral parties are those complaining about eBay's stance here is indeed a clever one.

However, I think the moral high ground was clear from the start. And I think that it is wrong to treat this as a business & marketing equation. It's not about making money this time. The ebay ticket touts think it was, though.

The exppression, "Get your prices right next time" misses the point entirely.

James Collett

16/6/2005 4:54 PM

Unless the ticket holder is notified that the ticket isn't transferable before they make their call surely the condition has no legs to stand on (even if it had some in the first place)


17/6/2005 9:25 AM

Beat me to it, Andy. That's right. Contractual clauses have to be stated upfront and reasonably clear. It's to prevent abuse through small print.

There are also questions about whether contract clauses are fair and reasonable. I don't think that "not transferrable" is fair and reasonable, because you give up such rights when you give up your property. I can't see why anyone would suggest that "not transferrable" was fair.

James, If you sold someone a trinket that you thought was junk, and it turned out to be a valuable antique, you'd be gutted, right? But do you think that you have the right to claim a portion of the profits from that person's sale? It's not a question of personal morality. It's a question of tolerance. Do we tolerate that people should be able to use eBay for purposes that we ourselves find distasteful, so long as no-one is harmed in the process? Geldof did not condemn the trashing of auctions. How would he feel if someone took a view that Bob Geldof was an arse, and that bringing down his website would be OK? Because in my view, he's said that such behaviour is fine when he said "good" when he was told that such things were going on at eBay.

We should be free to with property as we please. I bet that Geldof generally advocates this - the question is whether we advocate it when we find it against our personal morality. I think that there is questionable moral behaviour when artists play their next single at charity gigs, but I don't go trashing their websites as a result of it, nor would I support that.

It also tells me a lot about Geldof's attitude to Africa. He doesn't get the true nature of free markets (and having read some of the Make Poverty History, nor do they) and so instead of African nations having a chance to follow India or China, they'll carry on the same old socialist road of aid dependence and corruption.

Tim Almond

17/6/2005 10:22 AM

Selling someone a valuable trinket for a song because I have mistakenly judged it to be junk is very different from distributing more-or-less "free" tickets (which clearly have some "value") to winners of a texting competition.

The spirit in which you sell something in the free market is different from this. I think it's wrong to keep comparing this to the legal distinctions and rulings of trade practice. Certainly the Law applies - but in most instances that's the last place you want to end up.

I am offering views which pertain to this situation; I would not, for instance, agree that you can or should be able to in general attach strings to gifts that you give or to items that you sell. That would be daft. I am not making a general point here.

As far as eBay goes, it's their business and if they are operating within the Law, they are clearly free to do what they want, whih includes backing down when there is a PR catastrophe. Nevertheless a mass of people in society have the right to concur on a moral judgement on this action and bring pressure to bear on eBay. I don't think anyone brought down the operations of the website at

What happened here? Some opportunists saw an opportunity to profit out of what is basically a charitable event, thus diluting its essence. Others took the view that this was wrong, claimed the moral high ground and did a bit of damage to the opportunists' auctions - but got punished for it by eBay's Auction Police. Public outcry followed. EBay UK caved in and acted inconsistently and mildly pathetically.

Again, the real losers were the people who lost their trading accounts at eBay. and they were the ones who meant well.

The comments about free trade vs dependence, Africa and Geldof's input are worthy of being followed up in another thread.

James Collett

17/6/2005 1:51 PM

I think that we see it differently, and that's fine. I'm not even saying that I agree with the actions of reselling these tickets, I just defend their rights to do so (and I believe that it was counter productive as now, the sales will go on elsewhere, and eBay's contribution is lost). eBay were actually doing a bit of a favour, acting like an honest broker and giving something back.

I just get a little annoyed at the intolerance that I perceive sometimes (maybe I'm intolerant to it ;) ) in society. Why can't people just accept that maybe people want to do something and should have that choice. Don't like what eBay do, go elsewhere.

I wish eBay had carried on. Maybe they just figured that it wasn't worth it. Lessons will have been learnt by eBay over this. Considering their original message, I believe that that is the true heart of eBay - anything legal can be sold. Hopefully they'll be ready for the next time a bunch of ninnies decides that they don't like what they are doing.

The government even put up a minister to say that they had asked eBay to stop. Is this really a government matter? Go and get the waiting lists down or deal with failing schools, and keep your nose out of a private matter.

There always ends up with talk of legislation and coersion, where a little more thinking about personal choice and liberty would be better. The government spend time debating the price of football shirts. It's simple - don't like the price of the shirt? Don't buy it.

The government, aided by much of the mass media are taking this country into a nanny state. This was a battle won by the nannies.

Tim Almond

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