A Christie’s-Owned Tech Company Must Pay Heritage Auctions $1.8 Million for Data Theft, a Court Rules

But with a judge dismissing the majority of Heritage's claims, both sides are claiming victory.

The preview for Heritage Auctions "Urban Art Auction" on June 5, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California, featuring KAWS figurines. Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images.

A judge has ordered Collectrium to pay Heritage Auctions close to $1.8 million, bringing to a close the long-running data theft lawsuit filed by the Dallas auctioneers against the art-tech start-up, which specializes in collection management, and parent company Christie’s. (In 2015, Christie’s bought Collectrium for somewhere between $16 million and $25 million. Due in no small part to the lawsuit, it has been something of an awkward marriage.)

Heritage sued its larger auction house rival in 2016, alleging that Collectrium employees signed up for multiple accounts and used data-scraping software “spiders” to steal some three million listings over a period of two years.

The settlement figure may seem large, but it’s a small fraction—0.047 percent, to be precise—of the over $49 million in damages that Heritage initially sought. The suit had demanded $150,000 for each infringement and up $25,000 for each violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Heritage’s claims against Collectrium of trespass, unfair competition, and civil conspiracy were dismissed with prejudice. And although Heritage sued both Collectrium and Christie’s, only the subsidiary company was found to have any liability. Both sides, therefore, are claiming victory.

The Collectrium website.

The Collectrium website.

“We are very pleased with the decision,” said Heritage CEO Steve Ivy in an email to artnet News. “Fortunately, our great IT department was able to stop this illicit activity before any significant damage was done.”

“All the claims against Christie’s were dismissed as were the vast majority of the claims against Collectrium,” a Collectrium spokesperson told artnet News. “Collectrium is otherwise complying with the award.”

The ruling, from arbitrator judge James Ware, first came down in February, but wasn’t confirmed until June. The court unsealed several documents related to the arbitration decision in July.

Ware found that Collectrium knowingly violated Heritage’s user agreement and copyright registrations in creating multiple user accounts to scrape the company’s auction listings, a practice it maintained over a period of two years.

Christie’s. Photo by Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images.

“Collectrium’s purpose in copying Heritage materials was for commercial gain,” Ware wrote. “Indeed, the evidence shows that Collectrium was able to provide to its sister corporation, Christie’s, some initial scraped data in exchange for money.”

Based on Collectrium logging into the Heritage website a total of 1,755 times, Ware awarded Heritage $1,000 for each individual violation, or over $1,755,000 in total. An additional $5,000 was awarded as the minimum for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, plus $1 for breach of contract. The judge’s final ruling also awards Heritage attorney’s fees and costs of $553,269.17.

“The arbitrator’s actions—both in finding in favor of Heritage Auctions on the crucial issues and awarding Heritage Auctions most of its attorney’s fees for bringing the case,” said Ivy, “will likely send a strong signal to others with similar bad intentions.”

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