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Say one more mean thing about my sports card, and I'll sue!
It sounds silly, but now that sports cards can regularly fetch seven-figure sums, litigation is an increasingly prevalent course of action for those who feel they've been unjustly wronged.
Two collectors added their names to the list of the wronged recently, filing suit against the Instagram account "Card Porn," alleging that it made false, libelous, and defamatory claims about their 2003 Exquisite Collection LeBron James Rookie Patch Auto card. The card was set to sell at Goldin in June of 2021 when the Card Porn account suggested the original patch in the card had been replaced by a more aesthetically pleasing example, citing an alleged photo of the card with the original patch and noting that all other features of the card appeared to be the same. Given the account's 100k following, this type of negative attention can quickly snowball.
The card was apparently accompanied by a letter from Upper Deck, which notes the original card was sent back due to damage, at which point it was destroyed and replaced. Of course, if photographic evidence does verifiably confirm the card remains exactly the same aside from the patch swap, then the Upper Deck letter would be contradicted. Card Porn alleges the letter was later voided by the author, and ultimately, Goldin withdrew the card from the June sale.
Without authenticity concerns, that card was assuredly a seven-figure card at the time, perhaps even approaching $2 million. With those concerns though, the card is effectively a large sunk cost to the owners.
The suit seeks damages of $6 million. One problem: serving Card Porn is proving to be quite the challenge, because....well, people don't know who exactly Card Porn is. Will these legal issues unmask the Instagram vigilante? It's kind of like Batman, but less badass, and with a name that just wouldn't grace the front of comic books with quite the same panache.
He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A cardboard Dark Knight.....or according to the plaintiffs, the account is a defamer.
The stakes in the sports collectibles world have risen, and those heightened stakes almost always raise the prospect of legal action. In fact, this is far from the only story of card world litigation in recent months.
Trading card marketplace Alt is suing Beckett over a 2009 Topps Chrome Stephen Curry Gold Refractor. The card was graded BGS 9.5 when Alt purchased it for $168,000 in October of 2022. Alt then removed the card from its Beckett slab to submit to PSA in hopes of unlocking further value from the grading crossover. PSA, however, found the card to be trimmed, and upon another evaluation, Beckett also concluded that it was short top-to-bottom. Alt is alleging that their financial losses - which they measure at $350,000 - are the "result of BGS' negligence" and its previous "misrepresentation of [the card] as being unaltered."
Other ongoing matters include a legal battle between retired soccer star Ronaldinho and card manufacturer Leaf over contractual & licensing issues and action involving card manufacturer Panini's business practices relating to card "redemptions."
Many collectible markets are plagued by issues around authentication, sales practices, market manipulation, and fraud; given the rising stakes, the courts will become a more frequently-used tool for achieving rectification. Over the years, the art world has played host to countless high-profile legal disputes, which unfold with nearly as much regularity as the auction calendar itself. Now that some sports collectibles are trading at fine art prices, law firms have found a new source of business.
Another certainty of growing dollar figures in a market? An effort to produce engaging content around it. While we're certainly looking forward to The Goldin Touch, we can think of few pieces of sports card content with more potential than a Judge Judy-style cardboard court show.
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