Heritage Sues Christies

By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
 

On Monday, December 12, the Dallas-based coin and collectibles auction company Heritage Auctions announced that it was suing Christie’s auction house and its subsidiary Collectrium over multiple allegations of copyright infringement and computer fraud. Heritage had filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court in Dallas on Friday, December 9. The suit alleges that Christie’s had “scraped” copyrighted data and images from HA.com, the Heritage Auctions website, for commercial use in its collection management software as developed by Collectrium, a tech startup acquired by Christie’s in 2015.

In the 32-page complaint [Click to Read Complaint], Heritage argues that Christie’s had copied almost 2.7 million auction sale listings from HA.com–including photographs, item descriptions and prices realized–and incorporated the information into Collectrium’s database without attribution. Furthermore, Heritage alleges that Christie’s and Collectrium branded the information as their own.

The data aggregation was achieved via the use of a specific kind of internet bot: a “spider” or “web crawler”. Spiders are internet-based programs or scripts that complete certain automated tasks at a much higher rate than a person typing behind a keyboard could hope to do. Such tasks include indexing web pages for search engines like Google, or collecting massive amounts of data for the purposes of the bot’s operator. Christie’s is also accused of violating the website’s Terms of Use by creating multiple user accounts to to avoid detection and hide their activities with the sole purpose of allegedly gaining access to past auction results without buying a commercial license from Heritage, which would cost millions of dollars.

Heritage first noticed the activity in July, and determined that the spider activity started at least as early as March of this year. Thirty-one accounts–including one named “Jason Bourne”, who was from “Katmandu”–were identified and suspended that the company linked back to IP addresses belonging to Christie’s and Collectrium. The spider accounts accessed the HA.com website over 186,000 times during a nine-day period.

Yet according to Heritage, the activity continued even after the accounts above were stonewalled. Data from auction items listed as recently as October 31 were entered into the Collectrium database a few days later.

Heritage seeks actual damages to be determined by a jury, attorneys’ fees, and the maximum possible statutory damages of $150,000 per instance of copyright infringement under the Copyright Act, $2,500 per violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and $25,000 per instance under 17 USC §1202. The auction company also seeks a preliminary injunction for Collectrium to take their website offline until the offending auction listings are purged from the Collectrium database.

This is not the first time Heritage has filed suit against Christie’s. In 2014, Heritage Auctions sued the London-based auction house for $40 million, alleging that Christie’s had enticed several “luxury handbag specialists” to work with them, thereby breaking any contracts the handbag specialists may have had with Heritage. The 2014 case will go to trial in 2017.

CoinWeek will be continuing its coverage of this story with an in-depth piece next week.

* * *

Sources

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/12/12/us/ap-us-auction-database-copyright-lawsuit.html

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/heritage-sues-christies-collectrium-781793

http://www.collectrium.com/

https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-the-auction-world-is-moving-online-is-it-paying-off

http://www.apollo-magazine.com/christies-purchase-collectrium-mean-art-tech/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Act
 


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