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Trekkie Sues Christie's for Fraudulent Props 286

Posted by Zonk
from the watch-out-for-those-tricky-starfleet-types dept.
Token_Internet_Girl passed us a link to an MSNBC article on a very disappointed Star Trek fan. Mr. Moustakis of NJ bought a poker visor he thought was worn by Data in Next Generation at a Christie's auction for some $6,000. When he brought it to a convention to have it signed, actor Brent Spiner explained that he'd already sold the well-known visor in a personal sale; like Senator Vreenak, Moustakis had been given a fake. "Christie's spokesman Rik Pike stood behind the authenticity of the auction and said the disgruntled buyer's case had no merit. The lawsuit, filed in state court in Manhattan, demands millions of dollars in punitive damages and a refund for the visor and two other items Moustakis bought at the 2006 auction."
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Trekkie Sues Christie's for Fraudulent Props

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  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:32PM (#21850002) Homepage Journal
    If it's fake, he should get his money back, but damages? What was damaged? His fantasy of pretending he's Data while playing poker with somebody in a Whorf costume? Or was it his hope to resell the visor for a ton more movney on eBay once it was signed by Spiner?
    • There are probably some real damages, in terms of distress and so forth, with hard-to-quantify monetary value. However, if the scam was deliberate, punitive damages are certainly called for.

      C//
      • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:37PM (#21850052) Homepage Journal
        I agree that he'd be entitled to punitive damages if this were a scam, but I find it hard to fathom that Christie's would knowingly commit fraud.
        • by Courageous (228506) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:00PM (#21850210)
          In TFA, plaintiff's attorney claims "It's negligent misrepresentation." To me (and as far as I know, the law) negligence is not exercising the due care expected of one, given the wider standards of due care that other people or businesses take in similar situations. Supposing that plaintiff's merchandise is indeed fake, I would argue that it is surely appropriate to begin a process of discovery, to determine if Christies was negligent. One does have to wonder how they sold at auction fake merchandise, and what process they used to make sure it wasn't fake. This is something that they have every imperative to avoid.

          Christies does have the opportunity to avoid the discovery process. They could settle, and probably should. Having the world find out that they auctioned off fake merchandise, however inadvertently, is damaging to their reputation per se, as is continuing press on the matter.

          C//
          • by Deadstick (535032) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @04:15PM (#21850862)
            Putting it differently, if the only consequence of being caught in fraud were having to give the money back, fraud would be consistently profitable. Cheat ten people out of $100 apiece, get caught twice, and you're $800 ahead...so we have punitive damages to discourage that.

            You could call it a large-scale version of shortchanging...same principle.

            rj
          • by Gorobei (127755)
            In general, the auction house is just selling stuff, not standing behind its authenticity.

            For art, and other one of a kind items, they rely on provenance - essentially a chain of ownerswhip back to the original source. For some items, they may rely on an outside expert (e.g. for a newly "discovered" Picasso.)

            If they've done this, they are assumed to be acting in good faith, and you have little chance of collecting damages for fraud - be happy the transaction is cancelled, and you get your money back.
            • While this comment is well-taken, I'm suspecting that Christies would object to having the same level of authenticity for products as Ebay. :-)

              C//
            • by Marful (861873)
              Didn't even read the full post did you?

              Christie's spokesman Rik Pike stood behind the authenticity of the auction and said the disgruntled buyer's case had no merit.

              Nor did you read the actual article:

              According to the lawsuit, Spiner recognized the visor as the one that had been sold by Christie's and told Moustakis that it wasn't the real deal. The actual visor had been sold by the actor himself some time ago.

              Regardless of any indemnification on Christi's part on their website, by stating publicly that you stand behind the authenticity, they are de-facto guaranteeing the authenticity.

        • by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75.yahoo@com> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:39PM (#21850554)
          I agree that he'd be entitled to punitive damages if this were a scam, but I find it hard to fathom that Christie's would knowingly commit fraud.

          Didn't read TFA posted here, but there was an article/interview in the NY Daily News the other day with this guy and he said one of the things Spiner told him when they met was "I told them not to sell" the visor because it was fake. If that's true - and it seems like you'd have to take the word of the guy who supposedly wore it - then there could be a case for fraud. Christie's at that point went ahead with an auction they were warned about by one of the principals involved with the merchandise.

          Of course, it also depends on how these items were presented. I read the catalog for this auction at the time and many of the items were presented as rehearsal props or backups, or were otherwise never claimed to have actually been used on the show. Maybe this guy *believed* this visor was used on the show, but Christie's never said so. If that's the case, he's gonna have a tough time collecting anything from them.
        • by sentientbeing (688713) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @04:40PM (#21851030)
          Look I know its a long shot but has anyone considered its Data who might be the one lying? He might have sold tons of these to make some cash. I know hes a machine and they cant tell lies but he gets more and more human all the time.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by kerrbear (163235)

            Look I know its a long shot but has anyone considered its Data who might be the one lying?

            Actually it's the same visor but hundreds of years later it was given to Data on his birthday and later he brought it back in time and sold it for bus fare.

      • "Distress"? I say, whine more, noob. Why should he get a windfall, even if Christie's was pulling a scam?

        But yes, his monetary damages of $6000 should be reimbursed if the item was indeed a fake.

        If the item had been sold for $5000 instead of $6000, though, he could have filed this case in small claims court and gotten his just compensation a lot faster. He could have even ended up on TV because of it.
        • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:16PM (#21850324)
          If you don't institute punitive damages (in essence, "punishment") when a company deliberately takes action to defraud someone, they could just built the cost of settling/going to court into their cost of doing business, as they have built their electric bill and employee costs into their prices.

          And that is definitely something you don't want companies doing.

          • If you don't institute punitive damages (in essence, "punishment") when a company deliberately takes action to defraud someone, they could just built the cost of settling/going to court into their cost of doing business, as they have built their electric bill and employee costs into their prices.

            Surprise! They do anyway!

        • by rhyder128k (1051042) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:21PM (#21850392) Homepage
          "Christie's spokesman, a Ferengi trader of rare and unusual items..."

          I might have known!

    • by mrmeval (662166)
      Punitive civil damages. A way of bitch slapping them so they won't do it again. In Indiana the government keeps 90 percent of such judgments. The left over is usually eaten up in attorney fees or the attorney will gamble and take all of that 10 percent even if there is zero awarded the client then pays no fees and keeps the whole refund.

    • by phoebusQ (539940) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:45PM (#21850114)
      Fraud is one of the few cases in tort law where punitive damages are somewhat commonly awarded...not usually on the order of what this guy is asking, but still to some degree.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by asuffield (111848)

        Fraud is one of the few cases in tort law where punitive damages are somewhat commonly awarded...not usually on the order of what this guy is asking, but still to some degree.

        Damages in any suit are almost never awarded to the total asked for by the plaintiff. The common-law court system operates a little oddly: the plaintiff is responsible for figuring out all the details of the rules under which damages could be awarded and presenting the judge with a list of which ones should be considered, and what rang

    • by tinkertim (918832) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:49PM (#21850136) Homepage

      If it's fake, he should get his money back, but damages? What was damaged? His fantasy of pretending he's Data while playing poker with somebody in a Whorf costume? Or was it his hope to resell the visor for a ton more movney on eBay once it was signed by Spiner?

      Value these days is indeed anticipatory. If you bought a house that was guaranteed to be atop a famous grave, that purchase is more or less an investment. If it turned out that John Q. Public was underneath, that would be bad for business. Similarly, if you bought a stock based on reports from cooked books, you'd have a similar gripe.

      What's interesting about this is, does value equal what you thought you could make, or the price you paid for whatever you bought? This guy was in a line with (at best) 10 people in earshot of what was said, not quite worth what he's suing for if the merit is based entirely on the buyer being 'humiliated'.

      Something tells me this lawsuit could have been better if a lawyer wasn't so eager to grasp at straws. It looks like the guy was sold a fake, nonetheless, so avoiding that auction house until this is settled might be a good idea.
      • by xenocide2 (231786)
        Punative damages aren't from anticipatory value in resale. As the name suggest, they're a punishment. The idea is that they act as an extra deterrent to fraud, or whatever the crime is.
      • by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:35PM (#21851774) Homepage

        This guy was in a line with (at best) 10 people in earshot of what was said, not quite worth what he's suing for if the merit is based entirely on the buyer being 'humiliated'.


        The guy has enough of an obsession that he spent $24,000 on mostly Data props, and Brent Spiner told him he was ripped off. I doubt his feelings of humiliation are based on who else was in the line.
    • by Buran (150348)
      Certainly, damage to your reputation if you claim (and believe) that you have an authentic widget and then are laughed at by other people when they find out you (unintentionally) lied to them. The auction house advertises the goods as authentic and sells them as what they are claimed to be. If you sell goods that aren't as advertised, isn't that fraud?
      • by Nossie (753694)
        Tell that to Ebay :-|
        • by Buran (150348)
          Why should ebay be responsible when they are not the ones who write the descriptions, are not directly selling the items, and never claimed to research the provenance?

          It's a legit reason to not trust ebay, but blaming them for not doing something they never claimed to do is silly.
          • by Nossie (753694)
            And Christie's does?

            Do you really believe there is a difference between them? My point is nothing against Ebay as such but more against the reputation that Christies has, taking their very long legal get out clauses as evidence that they care almost as much about the 'customer' as the online auction houses.

            All of them suck
            All of them have get out clauses that say you are buying what the description says on the good faith of the seller.
            All of them would sell sand to an arab or ice to an eskimo if they thoug
    • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:31PM (#21850504)

      If it's fake, he should get his money back, but damages?

      That gives me an idea for "Step 2" . . .

      1. Sell N pairs fake Star Trek underpants for U dollars each.

      2. Get caught M times, refund M*U dollars.

      3. (N-M)*U dollars Profit!!!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NerveGas (168686)
      Pretending to be Worf? Obviously, you've never seen the dentists' family on "Trekkies", and heard what people really do when they're pretending to be Data...
    • As Rob pointed out (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moraelin (679338) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @04:03PM (#21850762) Journal
      As Rob pointed out, if you don't slap them _somehow_, then it's actually profitable to run a scam. At 6000 a pop, if you sell 1000 fakes and even as high as 80% of those realize it's a scam (though it probably will be a lot less), you've still made over a million profit off the remaining 20%.

      I'm sure a _lot_ of people would consider a life of crime, if the only punishment were, "if you get caught, you must give it back."

      I mean, seriously, then what would be the deterrent to, say, stealing cars? If you get caught you give the car back, if not, you fence the parts. It's guaranteed profit.

      There has to be _some_ punishment above and beyond giving back what you stole, or there is no deterrent.

      And if you want to say, "that's not equivalent", yes, in a sense it is. If I steal your wallet (or empty your account via ID theft), get caught, and give you your wallet and your money back, what more can you want from me? You got your money back, didn't you? All's settled and fair, and I can go back on the street, right?

      Well, chances are you'd want _some_ kind of punishment to both punish and deter further crime. You wouldn't want me back on the street looking for another wallet to swipe, with essentially nothing lost except a day's work.

      Now for crimes like above, ok, we have jails. But for companies we can't throw the whole company in jail, and jailing the directors is stuff we keep for more serious stuff. So slapping them with a fine is thought to be an acceptable substitute. The idea is to slap them hard enough that repeating the offense doesn't even remotely look profitable. That's all.

      Now the US system does look funny seen from Europe, and, I gather, seen from the USA too. It's easy to see it as "OMG, some greedy guy's trying to get rich off Christie." And it could even be the case. But, really, it's just one of the possible ways to deter companies from doing antisocial stuff. Whether it's a bunch of guys wanting big money (in punitive damages or as a settlement) or a government agency doing the same, well, the end effect is the same: the company is slapped hard enough for doing bad stuff.

      In Europe we have government agencies looking out for us, and dishing out huge fines. In the USA, I gather, you couldn't trust the government as far as you could throw them, and the whole system is geared towards a more personal "lawyers at ten paces at high noon" approach. End effect, nevertheless, the company gets slapped. We could bitch about details, like that that causes lawyers in the USA to breed like rabbits, but in the end it's one way to keep companies in line. Can't see anything wrong with that underlying idea.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by servognome (738846)

        In Europe we have government agencies looking out for us, and dishing out huge fines. In the USA, I gather, you couldn't trust the government as far as you could throw them, and the whole system is geared towards a more personal "lawyers at ten paces at high noon" approach.

        The US government does indeed dish out substantial fines when a company violates the public trust. The difference is that in a civil suit no crime necessarily needs to have been commited, for the government to dish out fines the law must

    • Whorf? (Score:5, Funny)

      by jpellino (202698) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @05:19PM (#21851296)
      That's it. Hand over the ears and membership card and go to your room.

  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:35PM (#21850028)
    And I was so hoping to buy a real phaser at auction.
    • by v1 (525388)
      Easy to come by. charging them however, can prove problematic.
  • by milsoRgen (1016505) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:37PM (#21850050) Homepage
    Without knowing the details intimately, I'm sure if he would have been offered a prompt refund instead of a denial from Christie's we wouldn't be talking about here on /.
    • by uhlume (597871)
      There's no indication from the article that he requested a refund before filing the suit. Seems like the kind of pertinent detail they might mention in the story if it had actually happened — but who knows. Regardless, I wouldn't assume anything, either way, without additional information.
  • MAD PROPS (Score:3, Funny)

    by The Media Mechanic (1084283) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:51PM (#21850152)
    Yo homies in da house - lissen up good - Im sendin a shout out to my dogg Christies n MAD PROPS ta Christies for sellin dem FAKE PROPS to sum un-suspektin dude an bein all like, aint nothin bro, its all good, its still cool, dont sue me bro, less work sumthin out, ya know, sum freebies an' shiiiiiiiit.
  • ... to have it signed, actor Brent Spiner explained that he'd already sold the well-known visor in a personal sale

    Damn, my "transporter duplication accident" line ain't workin' anymore.
         
  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:55PM (#21850182)
    Was looking for information about a duplicate set of Dorothy's ruby slippers (I think there was a similar thing about them - a couple of pairs - one worn and one not - and this web page came up:

    http://www.originalprop.com/blog/ [originalprop.com]

    Quote:

    "Coincidentally, the visor that is referenced in the article as the piece Spiner told the collector was not his visor, was a piece I was interested in for myself at the time of the auction. I had asked a friend in attendance to place a bid for me. After reading this story, I immediately remembered that the auctioneer had noted, before opening the item for bids, that there was an updated description for the item, and that it was made for the show/character, but was not the one seen/used. I don't have the exact quote from the live webcast, but my note on a private forum at the time (we were making notes and discussing in real time) was as follows:

    I asked Brandon to bid $1600 on Data's visor (up now)...

    Not even worn! I'm okay to miss that one then!

    Because this was broadcast on the web and via the History Channel on television, I'm sure the exact remarks by the Christies auctioneer/representative prior to bids placed will have an impact on this case."

    End Quote...

    If this is true then the guy probably has no case but does have an expensive spiffy green visor. ;-)
    • by fermion (181285)
      It seems to me that the antiques business is on par with the used car business. In both the product is subservient to the sales talent of the staff. In both total honesty results in loss of profits. Both primarily sell junk of dubious quality that the owner does not want any more. If one is talking about antiques, one is probably talking about something that no one really wanted in the first place, so it just sat around in th attic. If one is talking about curiosities, well that is another story. One
      • by Reziac (43301) * on Saturday December 29, 2007 @04:08PM (#21850810) Homepage Journal
        Here is what most people don't understand about this:

        Most film/TV props are NOT unique. Even for a single use, usually 5 or 6 copies are made, mainly to ensure that there is no delay in the event of breakage. (Extra Prop == $$$$, Delay == $$$$$$$)

        So the filmshoot or series ends and the props wind up scattered to the winds... some go into the prop houses' cavernous closets; some get lifted by cast or crew; some are thrown in the trash and salvaged by random persons. And people soon forget that other copies exist, or in the case of folks not in the biz, never knew that in the first place.

        Eventually, one or more of these MULTIPLE COPIES makes its way to the collectibles market. Since extra copies exist, situations like this one sometimes arise (this isn't the first I've heard about; indeed, it's not the first reported here on slashdot), where everyone swears they alone have THE ONE TRUE PROP.

        So... chances are that BOTH are genuine; that is, were made for the show. Chances are also good that only one was ever worn by Brent Spiner, and he may have never seen or known of others.

        The collectibles dealer usually has no way to know how many copies of a given prop exist; all they have is a general provenance, such as that it was known to be a discard from a given production.

        • by Lumpy (12016)
          Exactly, most props used on the two films I helped with were bought at local stores. People paying huge $$$ for a common item that can be purchased for $1.95 at a gaming store is not only incredibly silly, but in it's self shows the incredible crazyness involved with people that buy that crap.

          It's one thing to buy an original 1967 Series 3 Dalek, rubber alien head appliance, or even a tricorder prop or Phaser, items that are made by propmasters.. but buying standard commercial crud found at any store??

          are
    • It depends. If the auctioneer at the actual auction was claiming that it was worn by Spiner, then there's still a case to be had there.
    • He's also complaining about a uniform he bought. FTA: "He said that . . . the uniform appeared to be one of several made for the program, not a one-of-a-kind, as [he] believed it to be."

      It's possible that this guy was mislead about or misunderstood the rarity of these costume items, but either way, I believe it's incorrect to claim that they're fraudulent.

      Speaking from personal experience, there are no "one-of-a-kind" spacesuits for regular cast members, because the studio needed to have several doubles in case one of our costumes got dirty or damaged in some way (I once fell while running to the set, and tore the knee out of my hideous gray suit from Season 2, for example.) We never had just one of anything, unless it was expensive to make, or for a guest star who was appearing in just one show.

      This guy also says that Brent told him that the visor he bought wasn't the one Brent wore, because Brent already sold that one years ago. Again, Brent could have been talking about a visor from Best of Both Worlds, and this guy got a visor from All Good Things, or something like that.

      It doesn't make sense that CBS an Christie's would defraud fans the way this guy alleges, and I think it's more likely that this guy has buyer's remorse, and is looking for a way to get his money back.
  • feeling any sympathy for this guy?

    I mean, if Christie's really did fraudulently represent these as real props, more power to him in his lawsuit. Don't stop until you've got the auctioneer's gavel.

    But, holy fuck, $24K on Star Trek memorabilia? The thousands of dollars a year I spend smoking is put to better use than this dude's cash.
    • by Pyrion (525584)
      It's his money, not yours. What do you care?

      The thousands of dollars a year you spend smoking I could more efficiently waste on things that I enjoy. That's a lot of computer hardware right there. But again, it's your money, not mine, and I don't care what you do with it.
  • by AtariDatacenter (31657) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:11PM (#21850282)
    Is anyone else, like me, totally ashamed that they got the (deceased) Senator Vreenak reference, without having to look it up?
    • by morari (1080535)
      I too would be ashamed if I knew the Deep Space Nine episodes so intimately. And here we were talking about Data's visor, who comes from a perfectly decent series instead.
      • by cnettel (836611)
        As noted in russlar's post, that episode is one DS9 episode I wouldn't be the least bit embarassed about remembering. I generally call bullshit on the claims that DS9 is superior by being darker and more real, but here is one of the few episodes where that overall idea really shines. Depending on the mood, you can actually feel bad about feeling that the episode ended "well".
    • Nope. Besides, I've always liked Stephen McHattie, the actor who played Vreenak (not that you can tell under all that latex.)
    • by irving47 (73147)
      Ashamed? No way. Damn good episode.
    • No, you didn't reach for the nearest cylindrical object and go, "IT'S A FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE."
  • Well (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Daimanta (1140543) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @04:07PM (#21850800) Journal
    I wonder what the trekkie said when he found out the item was not authentic.

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