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Whatever happened to the Everquest auction suit?

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The class action law suit against Sony, Verant and eBay has been put on hold, according to the mysterious Web site set up last month to announce the legal move.

The identity of the wannabe class action co-ordinator(s) is unknown, although Dennis Flanders of Gravity Spot, the Seattle Web design company that hosts the site, is probably a protagonist.

The activists are unhappy with games developer Verant's efforts to prevent auctions of characters and items from its online fantasy game EverQuest.

Verant claims that such auctions violate the game's license agreement and are prone to fraud; it has persuaded eBay to ban the auctions on grounds of copyright infringement.

The law suit's Web site today announces:

"The auctions have been resumed at eBay and several other sites. Therefore, the injunctive relief that we sought is not needed unless there are future attempts to stop this legal commerce."

There is also talk of more possible legal action:

"We are monitoring any attempts to deliver private information from any auction site to Verant or Sony. Should this information be used to suspend accounts or otherwise harm any individuals we would like to know."

According to the site, which again focusse on eBay specifically, such disclosure of information violates the US Privacy Act of 1974. Any eBay users who feel that their private details have been passed on to Verant or Sony is invited to report the incident.

As if there wasn't enough secrecy surrounding these legal threats and the person or people behind them, things then start to get even more puzzling with this next message:

"We have found a site that is running a poll on these issues. They also have forums in which the issues can be debated. Here is the link: PollKat.com."

At first, PollKat.com looks like your typical user-participation site, but a quick mooch around the various sections, opinion polls and discussion boards reveals practically zero content. The classified ads section currently has a grand total of one item listed - an EverQuest character, offered for $150.

So, quite a new site then? Yes, set up just a few days ago in fact, and registered to none other than Dennis Flanders of Gravity Spot.

PollKat.com includes a prominent link to the EverQuest law suit site, describing it as: "Very Hot! Major Fight! Hot Issues! Read This!"

The link continues: "Who are these guys suing Verant and Sony? Look here then come back and let us know what you think about this suit! Judging from all the rhetoric flying around it insure to draw fire!"

So for some reason, whoever is running the two sites apparently wants visitors to believe they are operated independently, although it takes nothing more than a Whois search to reveal the connection.

The controversy over EverQuest auctions took another slight detour recently, following comments made by one of the game's designers at the Entertainment for the Interactive Age conference in California.

While the official line from Verant is that auctions are forbidden because they are a breeding ground for fraud, designer Geoffrey Zatkin commented that the company "doesn't like characters being sold because it ruins the player experience. And we're about selling the game experience." ®

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