Prohibiting Bots and Limiting Access is not “Misuse of Copyright”

Oracle v. Rimini Street, USDC D. Nevada 2:10-CV-00106-LRH-PAL

Oracle sued Rimini, a third party support and maintenance service provider, for having illegally downloaded Oracle’s software and support materials by logging on to Oracle’s password protected web-database using an Oracle customer’s individual login credentials, and downloading support materials in excess of that customer’s authorized license agreement. Rimini is owned by Seth Ravin, who is a top executive at TomorrowNow, another cut-rate provider of Oracle support services, until SAP acquired the company in 2007.

The much bigger issue here is whether the decades-old enterprise software model can hold up against the forces of upstart competition and price arbitrage; and, of course, copyright is the first beachhead in resolving that controversy. Really what has Oracle riled up is the challenge that Rimini and others (SAP for one) are threatening to eat the 80 plus percent profit margin that Oracle has in those yearly maintenance and support fees.

Rimini defended claiming that Oracle is using its existing software copyrights to unlawfully leverage a monopoly in its uncopyrightable after-market support services. Specifically, Rimini Street claims that Oracle prohibits the use of automated tools which effectively prevents customers from accessing large volumes of Oracle’s support materials which are integral to the licensee having the ability to make changes related to the technical design.

The court evaluated Rimini’s defense of copyright misuse; a powerful defense when effective as it halts the plaintiff’s case against that defendant. The equitable defense of copyright misuse “forbids a copyright holder from securing an exclusive right or limited monopoly not granted by the Copyright Office” by preventing “copyright holders from leveraging their limited monopoly to allow them control of areas outside the monopoly.”

Breaking the defendant’s claim into two parts, the court identified the two specific aspects of the alleged copyright misuse to be:

1) Oracle imposed limits on download, specifically the technical design of the Oracle website that licensees must access to get information, prohibits the licensee from accessing and differentiating the additional support information that is needed from that which is superfluous; and,

2) Oracle prohibits and literally stops any use of automated tools (bots) on its website with the result that customers are prevented from downloading large volumes of Oracle’s support material and collecting copyrighted content.

As to both aspects that Rimini claims comprised copyright misuse, the court “finds that the licensing restrictions alleged by Rimini Street are well within Oracle’s statutory rights as a copyright holder and therefore do not constitute copyright misuse.”

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