In Brief

“Shazam for Art” Yanked from App Store After Data Theft Controversy

Users trying out Magnus (all photos courtesy Magnus)
Users trying out Magnus (all photos courtesy Magnus)

Magnus, the much-praised mobile app that branded itself as the “Shazam for art,” is now off the market, following news that it operated using information grabbed from other art world databases as well as copyright claims by three German galleries. Apple has removed the free app from its store, as Artnet News reported, after a five-month run.

Screenshot of the Magnus app (click to enlarge)
Screenshot of the Magnus app (click to enlarge)

Created by Magnus Resch, the 31-year-old entrepreneur and author of the non-guide to art gallery management — who, yes, named the app after himself — Magnus prides itself on its mission “to democratize access to the art world.” Similar to music recognition technology, it allows users to take a photograph of an artwork in New York, London, and Berlin galleries with a mobile device and purports to deliver not only the name of the artwork and artist, but also its current price as well as the artist’s previous exhibitions and similar artworks. On its still-running website, its developers write that they spent “years of tireless data compilation and manual data entry” to form “the world’s most comprehensive art database.”

That, apparently, is not entirely true, unless you define tireless compilation as theft. According to Artnet, which maintains an auction price database of its own, ArtFacts.net and Artsy both found that some of the prices and gallery listings on the app were directly swiped from their own databases. The former filed a complaint with Apple showing information from the ArtFact database that appears verbatim on the app, apparently including mistakes. Three German galleries, including Wagner + Partner, also say that Magnus had taken and published their images and pricing information on the platform without their permission.

In a statement on its website, Magnus says Apple pulled the app store “temporarily” only because of the claims from the three galleries, framing the spaces’ requests to remove the stolen images and pricing data as a move that makes it “more difficult for customers to compare prices.” The claims by Artsy and ArftFacts, according to the statement, were “either resolved or without substance. They did not lead to the take down [sic] of the app.”

A legitimate press image provided by Magnus of Magnus Resch with a donkey (courtesy Magnus)
An actual press image provided by Magnus of Magnus Resch with a donkey

The developers then went on to emphasize how Magnus is “disrupting the field towards an art market of transparency and accessibility,” which apparently scares its competitors and art galleries. Resch himself took a break from admiring his 40-odd art collection, petting urban donkeys, and riding around town on his pink Vespa to offer some very resounding words that would no doubt bring tears to William Wallace‘s eyes.

“The resistance by some galleries is understandable and expected,” Resch said. “Sudden price transparency is disruptive to current business practices. However, this movement towards greater and greater transparency, which began with Artnet in the 1990’s, cannot be stopped. Whether we are challenged in the press, or threatened with lawsuits, we will fight it and win — the app will be up again soon.”

Someone, please, give this guy the Change.org petition for which he’s crying.

comments (0)