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The Wall Street Journal
"Charity Appears to Be the Winner At eBay Auction of a Web Award"
By Danielle Sessa

The Wall Street Journal 02/09/99 (Page B1) ©1999, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Todd Levin's stunt seemed like a cool idea at the time.

The 27-year-old free-lance journalist eagerly attended the fourth annual "Cool Site of the Year " awards last month in New York. His dream: that the online publication he writes for would take home the prize for cool magazine Web site. Another magazine won, but that turn of events didn't stop Mr. Levin from walking away with a trophy.

Three hours into the ceremony, a weary Mr. Levin snapped. He says he was tired of host Robin Leach lecturing the chatty crowd to settle down and frustrated that a number of winners had failed to send representatives to accept their awards.

If another winner didn't show up, Mr. Levin recalls thinking, he was going to step in for them.

So when online auction site eBay Inc. won for "coolest shopping site," Mr. Levin made his move. He hopped onstage, wineglass in hand, snatched the trophy -- and expressed his shock at "winning" the award with a few well-chosen obscenities.

Amazingly, no one challenged Mr. Levin's eBay affiliation. A Netscape marketer eager for new business even passed him a business card. Mr. Levin was unsure of what to do next, but a friend suggested he sell the pintsize trophy on eBay's Web site. Mr. Levin liked the idea. "I thought it would make a nice ironic statement," he says.

So he put the award on the block a week ago yesterday -- as a joke, he says. The item unexpectedly received 70 bids during the week, with the final offer reaching $5,000 by the time the bidding closed yesterday afternoon. Suddenly it wasn't so funny: Shocked at the number of bids and frightened by the way the price for the trophy rose, Mr. Levin decided to donate the proceeds to charity.

Meanwhile, eBay seems to be taking the joke in stride. "We have no ill feelings toward this individual," says Kristin Seuell, an eBay spokeswoman. "I think he is doing the right thing by giving [the money] to charity."

Still, the online auctioneer has taken steps to ensure that such a snafu doesn't recur. EBay neglected to send a representative to the awards because the company is based in San Jose, Calif., Ms. Seuell says. But "hopefully we will be nominated next year, and we will send a representative if we are lucky enough to win."

And what about the award's sponsor, the Cool Site of the Day Web site? "Perhaps next year we will be more vigilant," says its owner, Mike Corso.


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