The long-running data privacy debacle between Christie’s subsidiary Collectrium and rival house Heritage Auctions has come to a close. In a verdict on a lawsuit filed in 2016, a judge ordered the art tech start-up Collectrium to pay Heritage Auctions almost $1.8 million after the collection management app, which was purchased by Christie’s in 2015, stole data from the Dallas auction house’s website. Arbitrator judge James Ware made the ruling in February, but it was not confirmed until June. In July, the court unsealed additional documents about the arbitration.
Heritage Auctions alleged Collectrium stole 3 million listings from its site to build its database, which provides collectors with auction information to inform investments alongside inventory tools. According to the suit, Collectrium employees signed up for several accounts on Heritage’s website and used data scraping software to steal listings over the course of two years. Heritage originally sought around $49 million in damages.
Judge Ware found that Collectrium logged into Heritage 1,755 times and knowingly violated the site’s user agreement and copyright policies. He ruled that Heritage would receive $1,000 for each individual violation, $5,000 for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, $1 for breach of contract, as well as over $500,000 to cover attorney’s fees. Charges of trespass, unfair competition, and civil conspiracy were dismissed, and Christie’s emerged largely unscathed, with all liabilities falling on the subsidiary company.
At the time of the suit, a Christie’s spokesperson asserted Collectrium is “a wholly independent subsidiary of Christie’s.” According to the ruling, Christie’s did have something to gain from the scam. Ware wrote that evidence shows Collectrium sold some initial scraped data to its parent auction house.
Both auction houses emerge satisfied with the ruling. Collectrium emphasized that all the claims against Christie’s were dismissed as well as most claims against Collectrium. Heritage CEO Steve Ivy told artnet news: “We are very pleased with the decision. [. . .] Fortunately, our great IT department was able to stop this illicit activity before any significant damage was done.”