December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Spidering`s web could be trespass law

Wither spidering? That’s one possible outcome of the computer trespassing dispute involving eBay and auction aggregator Bidder’s Edge, a case in the hands of Federal Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte at press time.

EBay insists that its listings are private property and wants auction search engines to agree to its terms before they can scour the site, a practice known as spidering. Whyte has granted a temporary injunction barring Bidder’s Edge from eBay while he considers the complaint.

In February, Bidder’s Edge countersued, charging eBay with violating antitrust law. The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly investigating.

If Whyte strictly interprets computer trespass law, eBay likely will win a permanent injunction, says David Loundy, an associate with D’Ancono & Phlaum, Chicago. And that could force third-party aggregators out of business. “A lot of the Web is built on third-party sites aggregating data,” says Charles Gerlach, director of e-strategy at Mainspring Communications, Cambridge, Mass. He calls eBay’s lawsuit “a very dangerous trend. By placing such restrictions, you impede the flow of information.”

The restrictions could spill over to Alta Vista, Lycos and other search engines-and potentially beyond. Hundreds of shopping bots scour the Internet for bargains, but if eBay prevails, each would need permission from the sites they search. And that could mean the end of bargain pricing. “Once consumers got on the Web, there was a feeling that products would come down to a common price,” says Tom Smedinghoff, North American coordinator of the e-commerce practice at Baker & McKenzie, Chicago. “Whatever happens will shape the nature of e-commerce.”

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