LOS ANGELES (CN) – Autograph dealers, auction houses and authenticators conspire as a “cartel” to push out rival dealers, two memorabilia dealers claim in nearly identical antitrust complaints.
Defendants in both cases are Collectors Universe dba PSA/DNA, James Spence Authentication, R&R Auction Co., Roger Epperson dba Signed Sealed and Delivered dba Roger Epperson Authentication, Steve Cyrkin dba live.autographmagazine.com, and Momentica.
Both plaintiffs – Todd Mueller dba Todd Mueller Autographs, and Nelson dba Iconographs – are represented in federal court by the Christman, Kelley and Clarke law firm of Santa Barbara. Mueller is based in Colorado, Deedle in Nevada.
Authentication is crucial in the memorabilia business, both plaintiffs claim in their July 14 lawsuits. Both say that without authentication, memorabilia are “essentially worthless.”
“Therefore, to ensure the value of their items that they are purchasing, selling, or offering for consignment, dealers, collectors, and auction houses will use third-party authentication services to get a second opinion on the authenticity of an item,” both lawsuits say.
Both claim the defendants refuse to authenticate their celebrity-signed memorabilia “to increase their own market presence.” Both say that violates antitrust laws.
Both say that two of the defendants dominate the authentication business: defendants PSA/DNA and James Spence Authentication. They are two of the third-party authenticators accepted by eBay, the complaints state.
Mueller dove into the autograph industry as a collector in 1978 and began working as a dealer in the early 1990s. He claims the defendants call his items “questionable” and refuse to authenticated them.
“Defendants have joined together as a complex association of autograph dealers, auction houses, authenticators, and public personalities to act as the only authority on authenticating items that dealers are attempting to sell to their customers,” both lawsuits state.
Both claim that the defendants, though in the same business, are not true competitors.
“In addition to sharing the same experts, these seeming ‘competitors’ in the autograph memorabilia market are not competitors in any sense of the word. Through their shared staff and relationships, the cartel routinely shares information with each other regarding the autographed memorabilia market,” both complaints state.Mueller claims that a customer who bought five autographed photos from him, with his own certificates of authenticity, signed by non-parties Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Lopez, Bernadette Peters, Debbie Reynolds and Lindsay Lohan, submitted the items to PSA/DNA for authentication.
PSA/DNA returned the items as failing authentication, Mueller says, and he was forced to refund the money
That customer “has never done business with Mueller since,” he claims.
He says Prestige Auctions also refused to sell five autographed items from him with his certificates of authenticity, including photos signed by non-parties Tom Hanks, Dennis Quaid and Cher, Doris Day, Joe Frazier, and Uma Thurman.
Authenticated, signed photos of Hanks fetch more than $200 online.
PSA/DNA is currently selling a robe signed by Frazier for $500.
“This cartel exists to drive out any competition from the market by intentionally failing the authenticity of a dealer’s items based on the dealer’s identity and not on the item itself,'” Mueller claims.
Mueller and Deedle both say they want to hold the defendants “responsible” and “break up” the cartel.
Mueller and Deedle each seek $4 million in damages for antitrust violations, interference, and violation of California consumer laws.
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