Heritage Auction House Sues Christie’s and Collectrium Over Data Theft

Dallas-based Heritage Auctions has filed suit against Christie’s accusing the auction giant of harboring a large trove of sales data stolen by the operators of its Collectrium database. The suit alleges that Collectrium staffers used various accounts, one of them registered under the name of the silver-screen spy Jason Bourne, to pilfer data that now makes up the vast majority of the data Collectrium offers in certain categories.

Christie’s bought Collectrium in 2015, with some sources placing the price at $16 million.

Alleging that Collectrium stole three million listings and claiming the right to sue for $150,000 each for each infringement as well as amounts of up $25,000 for each violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the suit could tally significant amounts.

“It’s a whole lot of money, but we’re in uncharted waters in terms of legal remedies,” said co-chairman and CEO Steve Ivy, speaking to artnet News by phone, explaining that different legal standards could be used to determine the number of infringements and violations.

artnet also offers an auction price database, with results from international sales stretching back three decades.

Exhibits attached to the suit show verbatim copying of Heritage listings for two items, including a guitar formerly owned by Prince, which the auctioneer offered for sale in summer 2016.

“We are reviewing the allegations against Collectrium, a wholly independent subsidiary of Christie’s, and will withhold any further comment regarding the beta product in question at this time,” a Christie’s spokesperson told artnet News via email.

Heritage’s accusation comes a few months after the Magnus art-pricing app was pulled from the Apple store after New York–based art seller Artsy produced evidence of similar data theft on a smaller scale.

Heritage filed suit in US District Court in Dallas, Texas, on December 9, saying that nearly three million of Collectrium’s more than 11 million listings are stolen from Heritage.

Heritage sells numerous kinds of collectibles, including coins, entertainment and sports memorabilia, comic books, and various other categories, the suit points out, adding that it far outsells Christie’s in all of these categories.

Heritage discovered a “spider,” a kind of data-scraping software, operating on its website in July 2016, says the suit. That account was registered to a Leanne Wise, whose computer was shared by David La Cross, director of product development for Collectrium.

The data-scraping software had been operating since March, says Heritage, adding that it had accessed about five million pages of the site and posted what the suit says is lifted Heritage data as recently as November.

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