Will You Need A License To Sell On eBay?

eBay license

Last week, eBay sent me a message urging me to contact my state representatives in support of a bill that would exempt eBay sellers in Pennsylvania from having to get auctioneer licenses. “You may have heard the Pennsylvania State Board of Auctioneer Examiners is lobbying for eBay sellers to be licensed under the state’s outdated Auctioneer Licensing statute,” eBay’s message read. “In fact, one eBay seller has already been forced out of business because of attorney fees incurred while fighting the State Board and the potential of huge fines if the Board ruled against him. Without swift action by the eBay Community and the Pennsylvania legislature, your eBay sales could also be at risk.”

How ridiculous! I thought. Why would I have to be licensed? EBay actually conducts the auctions; I just write the descriptions and send the merchandise. And how would the state enforce such a law? Too few eBay sellers even know when they’re supposed to collect sales tax (or ignore the law when they should). If it’s an issue of competition for live auction houses, don’t they realize that eBay sellers are actually giving them more business? I know I’ve seen that happen at my local auction house. If the state could enforce such licensing, it would mean that only the big “Power” sellers would stay in business and the average seller, like me, would lose out on the opportunity to earn a little extra income. I doubt it would be worth the time and money for me to go through the licensing process.

Before I let myself get too carried away in this line of thinking, I decided to do some research. I looked at the Pennsylvania State Board of Auctioneer Examiners’ website to find support for the opposing point of view, only to find none. When I emailed the Board, its representative replied (in knee-deep jargon) that the Board exists only to carry out existing laws and does not make any legislative recommendations whatsoever. I started to doubt the accuracy of eBay’s email.

With a disclaimer warning me not to interpret the law without a law degree (hmmhow can I obey a law I’m not qualified to understand?), The Board of Auctioneer Examiners representative pointed me to the Board’s latest newsletter, which cautiously explained who qualified as an auctioneer. It said that an auction company is defined “as a company which, as part of its business, arranges, manages, sponsors, advertises or carries out auctions” and that “any online business with a physical presence in Pennsylvania that takes in consignments from third parties and places them online with the intent that they be auctioned, must be licensed as an auction company.”

So, lack of law degree aside, I interpret that statement to mean that any consignment business that uses online auctions to sell things for other people (whether from home or a storefront) needs an auctioneer’s license, but anyone who sells his or her own things (or buys from others to resell) does not. While that is a fine line to draw, it does provide some relief for the average eBay seller who wants to make a little extra cash in his or her spare time. Unless I decide to sell for others, I appear to be exempt from the existing license requirements.

While I could not validate eBay’s statement that the state’s licensing requirement put another seller out of business, I did look up the bill that eBay was suggesting I support. Pennsylvania Senate Bill No. 908 amends the state’s current auctioneer licensing law to make an exemption for auctions conducted online. Other state legislatures have dealt with enforcing license laws for online auction sellers, but to my knowledge, no other states have enacted a law exempting them from licenses. Perhaps Pennsylvania will set a precedent.

While I am disgusted that eBay stretched the truth about the opposition’s lobbying in order to gain my support (the email technically said only that I “may have heard” about such lobbying), I do have to agree with the sense of the bill. Online auction sellers (even consignment sellers) do not have to know as much about the bidding process as live auctioneers do, nor should they (in my opinion) have to pay yet another fee to participate in online auctions. Adding another fee would discourage small sellers, who would discard their unwanted items in other ways, most likely through the trash, which would add more to landfills.

The state already benefits from additional sales tax generated by sellers who follow the law; adding a license fee would create a greater need for enforcement without (I suspect) adding enough income to support such enforcement. Existing auctioneers also benefit from eBay sellers, who have discovered live auctions as a means for finding merchandise.

Exempting sellers at online auctions from having to become licensed as auctioneers is a win-win-win situation. I think I may have to take the time to write my representatives to say so.

Image courtesy of pbo31

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11 Responses to Will You Need A License To Sell On eBay?

  1. dan says:

    I can’t think of a worse thing that they could do. I don’t understand why the government has to stick its nose into everything.

  2. ben says:

    The government wants their tax money that very few on ebay are paying and if that means more regulations, you can expect to see more of it in the future.

  3. MeC says:

    You need to separate the intrepretation of statute by the auctioneer board from the actual statute. You need to look at who is on that board (usually auctioneers or attorneys who work for auctioneers). In Tennessee, the auction board said “yes you need a license”. The state attorney general said “no you don’t”. The legislature said and did pass a law exempting on-line auctions. My legislator said the ONLY emails she got were from auctioneers urging her to vote no, so she did. EBay’s warning is acurate, responsible and every eBay seller should contact their state representative and let them know they need to allow the exemption. Tennessee was going to require on-line auctioneers to learn how to auction livestock and real estate. Odd that there were only 2 auctioneers schools licensed in the state – and neither had any educational hours devoted to on-line selling.

  4. Georgia says:

    I find that eBay is a good way to get rid of some of the stuff I no longer need, but if I were forced to get a license to sell on it, there is no way I would or 99% of the people would.

  5. Matia Bryson says:

    Sorry… I couldn’t help but chuckle at the observation that the demise of eBay selling would cause the landfills to be expanded. Surely, there are more options… like garage sales, consignment sales, charitable giving. Then again, it would prove the old maxim about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure.

  6. steve says:

    The existing law would not require those that buy and sell items on Ebay to have a license. A license would only be required by those Ebay sellers that are selling items on consignment for other people. Aren’t Ebay sellers that are selling merchandise for others performing many of the same duties that an auctioneer is?

  7. Pingback: Will I need my license to sell on eBay? at Mighty Bargain Hunter

  8. mbhunter says:

    Very interesting. As someone who is most of the way toward becoming a licensed auctioneer, this will be quite a hot topic.

  9. Libby says:

    Read the following:


    Ebay DID NOT stretch the truth. November 19th, news articles online and on TV and Radio have confirmed that the State of PA is enforcing the auctioneering lisencing requirement to all eBayers who sell for others online. You must have an auctioneer’s lisence or face a $1,000 fine. To get a license is NOT easy, it takes several courses and/or years of apprenticeship.

    I do not agree with any of it, but what can I do? Looks like selling with Fixed Price listings only might be the answer for now.

  10. Michelle says:

    Shannon, ebay was not wrong. In fact, I just received a message from my PA senator telling me that just such a law was passed, requiring sellers on ebay to be licensed and pay $100.

  11. Michelle says:

    From what I’ve read, the bill that recently passed requires those who sell things on ebay *for other people* to register. I do not think you need to register if you sell things just for yourself. See SB 908.

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