Law of Cards: Beckett and COMC Breakup Ends in Lawsuit

Law of Cards: Beckett and COMC Breakup Ends in Lawsuit

Last year, Collectors Universe filed two lawsuits against app manufacturers that allegedly impermissibly used their trading card/coin pricing information. Beckett Media continued this trend on February 26, when it sued COMC, formerly Check Out My Cards, for allegedly misappropriating its trade secret checklist and pricing information.

This lawsuit has a little history.

At a general level, COMC is a consignment platform where users can sell sports memorabilia online. At issue here is that, until very recently, before cards are listed, COMC sellers could view the "Beckett Value" of the cards they wish to sell through COMC and use that information to set a price.

In short, COMC sells cards, and Beckett helped suggest prices for those cards. Sounds like Beckett and COMC should be a match made in heaven, right?

Wrong. This couple has had problems from the start.

Beckett alleges that COMC initially stole Beckett's pricing information by "scraping" the checklists and pricing data from Beckett.com. Although it appears COMC's initial "scraping" of data was not licensed, the two parties did reach a licensing deal that lasted several years. In March 2013, Beckett and COMC entered into the final licensing agreements that allowed COMC to use Beckett's checklist and pricing data.

Legal translation: Interesting that prior to this lawsuit, there was another potential lawsuit between Beckett and COMC over the alleged "scraping" of Beckett information. Despite this potentially rocky start, Beckett and COMC worked that out, held hands and tried to give the relationship a go.

The Beckett/COMC license agreements allegedly prohibited COMC from using Beckett's proprietary data (e.g., its checklist and pricing data) in any manner other than helping the COMC sellers in determining prices.

Legal translation: So, if you could imagine this couple's vows, "To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, and to only use our proprietary information in a very specific way."

Relationship troubles arose again in December, 2013 when COMC allegedly "used an API to take and store Beckett's entire database."

The complaint emphasizes that: "To be clear COMC currently possess Beckett's database."

Around this time, Beckett allegedly informed COMC that it was breaking off the relationship.

Legal translation: It's unclear when the API-scraping took place and when Beckett "broke up" with COMC, but the implication from the complaint is the termination was linked to the December, 2013 scraping. The breakup could also have something to do with Beckett launching a revamped version of their own selling platform to compete more directly with COMC.

In response, COMC informed Beckett that its "termination was invalid."

Legal translation: "I don't accept your break up. We're still dating."

It took a little time for the breakup message to finally sink in with COMC. In January, 2014, COMC announced it would replace the Beckett information with its "new catalogue" and "new price guide" or "suggested list price."

Legal translation: "I don't need you! I can take care of myself!"

Soon thereafter, Beckett filed the current lawsuit.

Legal Translation: "Give me back my couch!"

Beckett's concern is that COMC is allegedly not independently creating its own database. Rather, it is using the "millions of rows of data and millions upon millions of pieces of data within those rows…span several decades" from Beckett as a short cut. In other words, Becket believes COMC is getting a "free ride" off Beckett and avoided the work of generating its own database.

And because using Beckett's data to create a COMC database allegedly violates one of their marriage vows (legal translation: it was not one of the approved ways from COMC to use Beckett's alleged proprietary information), Beckett sued COMC.

In its complaint, Beckett alleges it will seek a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction to stop COMC from using this information while the suit is in progress, but it does not appear any such motion has been filed. At least not yet.

Most of this case will likely be fought under seal and away from the public eyes. Beckett will need to prove that its information qualifies as "trade secrets" including what mechanisms it uses to generate and protect its trade secrets. What will be interesting, at least for me, is whether or not the Beckett information qualifies as trade secretes.

So far, I think Beckett has good arguments, but to get a full understanding of the case, we'll need to wait to see what COMC's response is and how it builds its defense. Although, there are hints available on the Internet as to what its position might be.

A while back in its blog, COMC informed its customers that its relationship with Beckett was going to end on March 31, and in the hopes of a "quick and smooth transition, we're calling upon the community to help by participating in a series of Challenges."

The Challenges, in essence, make it look like COMC is trying to build its own checklist and price guide through crowd sourcing.

Legal translation: I guess you can say COMC is on the rebound and dating other people. Actually, through crowd sourcing, it appears COMC is seeing A LOT of other people.

Now, if COMC is building its databases from scratch, Beckett's story of who dumped who might have some problems.

Legal translation: Like any breakup, it's a he said, she said kind of thing.

COMC's first action in this case was to move the case from state court to federal court. It sounds like an impressive step, but really, it's done by just filing a piece of paper.

I hope Beckett doesn't try to move the case back to state court, because that'll slow down the whole process, and stall our ability to gape at this love affair gone wrong.

But sometimes couples like to fight about every issue they can.

Legal translation: Gotta love the billable hour.

If you want to check out (sorry, couldn't resist) the complaint, click here.

Update: COMC Countersues Beckett

The information provided in Paul Lesko's "Law of Cards" column is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in the sports industry. This information is not intended to create any legal relationship between Paul Lesko, the Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC or any attorney and the user. Neither the transmission nor receipt of these website materials will create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the readers.

The views expressed in the "Law of Cards" column are solely those of the author and are not affiliated with the Simmons Law Firm. You should not act or rely on any information in the "Law of Cards" column without seeking the advice of an attorney. The determination of whether you need legal services and your choice of a lawyer are very important matters that should not be based on websites or advertisements.

ebaysmalllogo Image
3608911002054040 1 Image
MATT MOORE 2014 TOPPS TRIBUTE AUTO 81 99
$14.99
3214677731934040 1 Image
IVAN RODRIGUEZ 2014 Topps Archives favorites AUTOGRAPH AUTO BLUE SAPPHIRE 5 5
$279.99
3214677731974040 1 Image
2014 Topps Museum Collection Autograph 1 1 Ryan Braun Gold Framed Auto 8 15 
$129.99
3214677731984040 1 Image
2014 BOWMAN CHROME BLACK REFRACTOR AUTOGRAPH 90 99 JAVIER BETANCOURT AUTO
$49.99
3908904388024040 1 Image
2014 Topps Tier One Autograph Bronze Ink Yu Darvish auto # 25
$199.99
3609929022234040 1 Image
2014 Bowman Damien Williams RED AUTO #25 25
$19.99
1613687683604040 1 Image
2014 BOWMAN CHROME AUTO BASE JESSE WINKER RC BCAP-JW, MINT
$17.96
2715478461094040 1 Image
MIKE TROUT 2014 TOPPS SERIES 2 COMMEMORATIVE PATCH ANGELS
$12.49
2715506662194040 1 Image
2014 Bowman Chrome Rookie Yordano Ventura RC Blue Auto 250 Kansas City Royals
$24.99
3214677806834040 1 Image
2014 Topps Allen & Ginter Taijuan Walker Framed Mini Red Ink Auto RC SP #'ed 10
$69.99
1213875316374040 1 Image
2014 Panini Prestige TROY NIKLAS Rainbow Foil Extra Points Auto #18 25 CARDINALS
$14.99
3809525213924040 1 Image
Yasiel Puig 2014 Topps Series 2 All-Star Commemorative RC Team Patch
$19.99
2911755935134040 1 Image
2014 Leaf Valiant De'Anthony Thomas 10 10 Auto Yellow Honor Guard Chiefs
$64.60
3312609713374040 1 Image
TRAVIS DEMERITTE 2014 BOWMAN INCEPTION PINK-AUTOGRAPH 01 50
$15.00
1114137781904040 1 Image
2014 Panini Prizm World Cup CARLOS VALDERRAMA Signatures Autograph Auto Colombia
$45.00
1713924622094040 1 Image
Eddie Lacy, 2014 Prestige Green Extra Points Auto #7 25, Rare, BV $120^, Packers
$32.29
« Previous1234
 Image
 |  E-Mail | URL
Paul Lesko is a shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy and the chair of its Intellectual Property Department (http://www.simmonsfirm.com). Don’t hold the fact that Paul is a lawyer against him, he’s also a rabid baseball and college basketball fan, and an avid baseball card collector. Paul can be found on Twitter @Paul_Lesko and Google+.

User Comments

  1. I’m not surprised that this has ended up in Court. I question how proprietary information like checklist data really is — other than, of course, the assumption that Beckett labeled it as such in its licensing agreement with COMC.

    In addition, a lot of collectors I have spoken to do not believe or trust Beckett’s pricing data. The “values” there tend to be higher than realized prices in eBay auctions or on other websites such as Just Commons, Sportlots, or COMC to name a few. Since eBay is quite frankly the largest secondary marketplace for cards and it makes its sales data for cards available to anyone who wants it, how can that information be considered proprietary?

    I also question how proprietary the set checklist information is. At least two other websites crowd-source the information Beckett says is proprietary already.

    It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

  2. Wonder if Beckett will sue Ebay for allowing people to put BV or Beckett Value as part of their listing titles…..

  3. “And because using Beckett’s data to create a COMC database allegedly violates one of their marriage vows (legal translation: it was not one of the approved ways from COMC to use Beckett’s alleged proprietary information), Beckett sued COMC.”

    This is really the only section that matters.

    If I were the Beckett lawyers, Exhibit A would be the COMC blog posts stating that they needed crowdsourced help to build the catalog because the task was too vast for a small entity to accomplish, i.e., any attempts to state that they weren’t using Beckett data to build their own database are futile. COMC has admitted as much as a single entity it does not have the resources pre-crowdsourced catalog to effectively catalog the card/other market. This ends up being a simple contract ToS violation and COMC will most likely have to settle.

    The rest of what will be discussed is likely fluff. Yes, Beckett’s pricing is inflated, yes recent checklists are being released publicly by some companies making them hardly “proprietary”, but the issue of whether or not Beckett can prove that the COMC business piggybacked information obtained in a non-agreed upon means seems pretty clear cut as COMC has pretty much already admitted.

  4. COMC is in big trouble.

  5. Is this a bad aprils fool joke?

  6. Great Article Paul!

    I would have to say Preliminary Statement #4 “Without access to Beckett’s database, COMC cannot develop the content
    media and pricing systems in order to compete with Beckett” is my favorite. This is false. Really it just provided COMC a shortcut to checklist data and unrealistic pricing. Now that they have all of their users listing prices and sales history from the last 6 years on the system. They should be pretty well covered in That regard. I think the key word in this complaint from Beckett is “compete”. Beckett trying to protect/aid the Guides and BBS which are directly threatened with where COMC is going to take the site now. Realistic price data will be huge.

    On the COMC side of things I wonder how much of this crowd source identification is really just window dressing. Making it appear from the outside that they are building this from scratch.

  7. I dont see the big deal. Beckett’s “Prices” are one of the biggest farces in the hobby. Most of their listings for cards from $50-$100 rarely sell for more than $15-20 on ebay. And pricing for cards under $50 rarely sell for more than 10-25% of that. Its a complete joke

  8. ‘Relationship troubles arose again in December, 2013 when COMC allegedly “used an API to take and store Beckett’s entire database.”‘

    COMC did do this… with an API developed in concert with the developers at Beckett, developed for the express purpose of being able to do this, as part of their contracted agreement that allowed them to do this. COMC spent much of the summer developing this API with Beckett, partially so that COMC could also sell Beckett subscriptions.

    ‘In response, COMC informed Beckett that its “termination was invalid.”

    Legal translation: “I don’t accept your break up. We’re still dating.”

    It took a little time for the breakup message to finally sink in with COMC. In January, 2014, COMC announced it would replace the Beckett information with its “new catalogue” and “new price guide” or “suggested list price.”‘

    It did not take any time for the message to ‘sink in’. However, COMC’s contract with Beckett was valid until the end of March, 2014. Beckett attempted to prematurely terminate this contract with zero notice on the grounds of ‘because we feel like it’ (with a likely ultimate goal of torpedoing COMC to eliminate a potential threat).

  9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_v._Rural

    That would pretty much cover the checklists. There’s nothing proprietary to Beckett’s checklists aside from the mistakes and gaps in their checklist data. Besides, once COMC cleans up all the gaps and mistakes, F+W Media might as well sue Beckett for stealing their data from the Standard Catalog.

    I think it’s all BS (whether it’s an April Fool’s Day hoax or not).

  10. just another reason why Beckett is a joke.

  11. Beckett was a miserable experience for the 8 years we were on the marketplace. Management and their largest dealer swim in the sewage of ignorance… I can’t want to see them drown in it.

    Leave a Comment: