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EBay Pulls Art Item at Request of Condit

Internet: Congressman's office says his intellectual property rights were violated in collage about intern's disappearance.

July 26, 2001|DAVID STREITFELD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Online auction house EBay Inc. said Wednesday that it had removed a piece of art for sale about the disappearance of Chandra Levy because of a complaint by Rep. Gary Condit (D-Ceres), who said it violated his intellectual property rights.

"We were contacted by a representative from the congressman's office in Washington. . . . He believed the item was 'a violation of the congressman's right of publicity, based upon the use of his name or image,' " said EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is first time any politician has asked for and gotten an item pulled on EBay," Pursglove said.

The work of art in question, titled "Social, Artistic & Political Commentary #9," was created by Terry Aley, a graphic designer and artist in Kansas. The collage includes photos of Condit and missing intern Levy, whose disappearance has sparked intense media coverage nationwide.

In the artwork, near the Condit photo is a cutout of an ax dripping blood. Sprinkled around the montage are words such as "thou shall not be a hypocrite," "missing" and "The media is to Chandra what piranhas are to guppies."

"This is a satire, a parody of media frenzy," said Aley, 34. "They've said [Condit] is not a suspect so many times that it sounds suspicious."

Aley created his "Commentary" in one brisk evening. Measuring 12 by 18 inches, it had received two bids by the time the auction was pulled Monday. The highest bid on EBay was $1.25. Aley hoped to get somewhat more--a couple of hundred dollars.

The artist said he's mystified by the banishment of his work. "Considering CNN and Fox are playing the [Levy] story over and over with every little detail that emerges, I don't know why [Condit] would care about some artist in Kansas," Aley said.

Levy, 25, vanished from her Washington apartment May 1, just before she was to return home to Modesto after a federal internship. Condit this month reportedly admitted to having an affair with Levy. Condit is expected to meet again soon with FBI agents and District of Columbia police investigators.

Condit's spokeswoman, Marina Ein, said Wednesday night that she had no knowledge of the complaint and could not comment on it.

Randy Groves, Condit's legislative director, who, according to EBay, contacted the auction house, did not respond to a message left on his voicemail and couldn't otherwise be reached.

Pursglove, the EBay spokesman, said the auction house does not generally pull items for sale just because someone complains. The company instructed Groves that he had to enroll Condit in its Verified Rights Owner program, which is open to any person or organization that holds intellectual property rights. Among the several thousand VeRO members are Microsoft, the Recording Industry Assn. of America, Warner Bros. and Hard Rock Cafe.

Among items typically removed under the program are software, if the original manufacturer believes it was pirated; movie trailers; and designer-label clothing that the designer believes is fake.

The auction house makes no judgment on whether an item is infringing a trademark, copyright or other rights, instead telling the seller merely that a sworn statement has been made to that effect. Aley's first knowledge of Condit's complaint came when he received an e-mail telling him that his auction had been terminated. He promptly posted the e-mail on his Web site, along with a copy of the artwork itself.

Aley said he wasn't exploiting a potential tragedy by creating his "Commentary" and selling it on EBay. But isn't he exploiting it now, by going public with his complaint?

"They yanked my auction off and censored me," he said. "I think I have a fair claim to talk about that."

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