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EBay had already banned items that promote hatred or violence, but allowed artefacts that were more than 50 years old to be listed as “collectibles”.

Users were warned not to take bids on Nazi items from people in France, Germany, Austria or Italy because of laws in those countries. Users with French- or German-language Web browsers were also blocked from searching for Nazi-related items, EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said.

The new policy, which takes effect from May 17, eliminates the historical exemption and bans the items completely.

While anti-racism groups, who have repeatedly argued EBay is morally responsible for what is available on its massive site, considered the decision a victory after several years of campaigning, it is perhaps best understood in the light of EBay’s recent global expansion.

Coins and stamps

“We are encountering different laws and different points of view as to what constitutes illegal, offensive or inappropriate items,’’ said Mike Jacobson, EBay’s general counsel. “Given our expansion, as well as feedback we’ve received from our users, we reviewed our policy and concluded that these changes are appropriate.’’

EBay’s move comes as fellow Internet giant Yahoo! Inc. is untangling itself from lawsuits brought by groups in France.

A French judge last year ordered Yahoo to block French users from seeing listings of Nazi merchandise on its auction pages and said he would fine the company $13,000 each day it failed to comply. Yahoo said the order was impossible to carry out, but ultimately banned auctions of Nazi merchandise when it began charging users to list items on the site. EBay will still permit German coins and stamps from the 1930s and 1940s and other German memorabilia that does not bear Nazi or SS markings. Historical books or films about Nazi Germany can also be sold, even if a swastika appears on them.