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Issues of privacy and copyright have long been debated across the market, particularly since the advent of the digital age – and Italian auctioneers Finarte announced in November that they would no longer make their auction results public because of complaints from both consignors and buyers.

However, Christie’s distinguish between Artprice, who they say “are the only providers that are scanning and copying catalogues wholesale”, and other firms such as Artnet or Askart, who typically include brief information such as size, title and medium in their listings. These are not the subject of litigation.

In turn, Artprice – who say they work with 3600 auction houses around the world – have responded to the charges by saying that the scanning of auction catalogues helps promote Christie’s auctions to its 1.3m subscribers. They also believe auction catalogues, containing highly summarised and simplified information whose essential purpose is the sale of the products they present, cannot be considered ‘creative works’.

They point out that, when selling their catalogues, Christie’s choose to apply the normal rate of VAT instead of the reduced 5.5% rate which the French Tax Code permits for works qualifying for copyright protection.

Thierry Ehrmann, founder and CEO of Artprice, also issued an impassioned press release last month announcing his intention to file a share-manipulation complaint against the auction house (who he says dramatically increased the amount of damages to startle investors and deflate his company’s share price). He says he will refer the matter to the competition authorities on the grounds that the battle has an underlying commercial basis. Like a number of art data websites, Artprice also sell art online.

The case goes before the Paris courts this summer.

Christie’s, owned by François Pinault, launched a similar claim against Artprice in 2001, when Artprice’s principal financial partner was the group headed by Bernard Arnault, but they later dropped the claim.

By Roland Arkell