Wednesday, 19 November 2003
Formalism & circumventing the law
NBC's local affiliate in Columbus reports that college football fans can buy tickets to the upcoming Michigan-Ohio showdown online in a thinly-veiled attempt to avoid prosecution under Michigan's anti-scalping law. (Article: Auctions Offer 'Free' OSU-Michigan Tickets, Pricey Envelopes) "Internet auction site users are paying hundreds of dollars for hats, pencils or 'a personalized white envelope.' Oh, and the winning eBay bidders get 'free' tickets to Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan football game."
I would not normally cover a story like this. However, it illustrates the problem with legal formalism that I failed to explain here a few days ago. In a previous article, I mentioned Julian Dibbell's customer service adventure with PayPal. That company's Seller Protection Policy covers tangible items but not intangible ones. Julian suggested that intangible goods could be offered as free gifts with the purchase of a piece of paper that has a password written on it. The purchased item — the paper — would therefore fall within PayPal's policy, and the seller would be protected in the event that the buyer tries to renege on the deal. The NBC report highlights the problem with that approach.