Screen scraping is a problem that has vexed website owners since the early days of e-commerce – how to make valuable content available to users and customers, but prevent competitors from accessing such content for commercial purposes. Even in the advent of social media, mobile commerce, and advanced software, the issue remains relevant to today’s companies, as evidenced by the craigslist’s victory this past week against an aggregator that had formerly scraped its user postings.
An ongoing dispute from this past winter that we have been watching has raised these long-standing issues anew.
Heritage Auctions, a major auction house that specializes in rare coins, entertainment memorabilia and natural historical items, has brought a multi-count suit against Christie’s, alleging that its competitor scraped millions of proprietary and copyrighted photos and listings from Heritage’s website and reposted them on its own subscriber-only auction site Collectrium. (Heritage Capital Corp. v. Christie’s, Inc., No. 16-03404 (N.D. Tex. filed Dec. 9, 2016)). Plaintiffs claim that Collectrium removed copyright notices from the original listings and photos and ported the data onto its own site, thereby saving significant costs from producing similar listings or paying licensing fees and allegedly causing harm to Heritage in additional IT-related costs and diverted or lost business.