EMERYVILLE -- In a falling-out between two e-commerce companies, a Bay Area art retailer was sued on Tuesday for allegedly hacking into the computer servers of another Internet retailer and stealing swathes of consumer information.

Gotham City Online, a website that sells discount brand-name shoes, sued Art.com, an Emeryville-based company that sells fine art online, in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claiming trade secret violations and computer fraud.

According to the lawsuit, Art.com illegally accessed Gotham City's servers, and changed the security passwords and ownership credentials to prevent Gotham City employees from accessing email or company files. The lawsuit alleges that Art.com copied and altered Gotham City files, including files containing information about consumers who shop at Gotham City, and stole computer code and other intellectual property. Gotham City said the computer tampering brought business to a standstill and at one point caused the website to crash.

"For a significant period of time, Gotham City's employees were unable to access their emails or to perform work for the company and its consumers," according to the lawsuit. "Gotham City was forced to send home employees because they were unable to perform their jobs."


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A spokeswoman for Art.com said late Tuesday afternoon that the company had not reviewed the lawsuit and its general policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation.

The Gotham City servers host, among other things, the programming code for pricing items and ordering from the website; vendor information; employee names and addresses; and customer names, addresses, email addresses, purchase histories and passwords to their Gotham City accounts. The lawsuit does not say that any consumer payment information was stolen.

The lawsuit is the latest falling out between the two e-commerce companies, which had a business deal a couple of years ago that quickly went south. Kentucky-based Gotham City in 2012 sold its assets to Art.com, and Gotham City staff became Art.com employees, although the two retail sites continued to operate separately. But in January, Art.com executives fired three Gotham City's executives and rescinded a promise of a multimillion dollar payout, according to the lawsuit.

According to Gotham City, the computer tampering began shortly after those executives were fired, and it regained control of the computer servers again on Feb. 13.

"We have been asking Art.com to desist from these practices for quite some time," Gotham City CEO, Jonathan Garriss said in a prepared statement. "Hopefully the lawsuit will help spur that change and get the company to clean up its act."

Gotham City is claiming Art.com has violated the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act and the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and is asking for relief for at least $5,000 in damage done to its servers and for lost business.

Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.