Anti-Bot Restrictions Aren’t Copyright Misuse–Oracle v. Rimini Street

By Eric Goldman

Oracle USA, Inc. v. Rimini Street, Inc., 2:10-CV-00106-LRH-PAL (D. Nev.). Decision on Rimini Street’s motion to dismiss, Aug. 13, 2010. Decision on Oracle’s motion to dismiss Rimini Street’s counterclaims, Oct. 29, 2010.

As the world watches the Oracle v. SAP spectacle, a very similar Oracle enforcement action is playing out more quietly. The commonalities are not an accident; one of the principals from TomorrowNow, Seth Ravin, subsequently started up defendant Rimini Street and allegedly has engaged in the same shenanigans that got TomorrowNow and its parent SAP into so much trouble. As the court recaps things, “Plaintiffs allege that Rimini Street illegally downloaded Oracle’s software and support materials by logging on to Oracle’s password protected websites using a customer’s individual login credentials, and downloading materials in excess of that customer’s authorized license agreement….Further, Rimini Street allegedly copied this software, in order to offer low-cost support to other Oracle customers and induce them to cancel their support contracts with Oracle in favor of Rimini Street.”

In August, the court ruled on the defense’s motion to dismiss most of the claims, which goes almost nowhere. The court ends the negligent interference with prospective economic advantage but all of Oracle’s other challenged claims survive, including the CFAA, Cal. Penal Code 502, Nevada computer crimes, and trespass to chattels claims (the latter because Oracle “alleged facts indicating that Defendants’ conduct, including use of search crawlers, impaired the ability of Oracle America’s network systems and information databases to function properly”). The court rejected Rimini Street’s “we’re just a proxy of our customers” defense in upholding the contract breach inducement claim based on getting customer passwords and rooting around Oracle’s customer support database.

In October, the court knocked out most of Rimini Street’s counterclaims against Oracle. The most interesting discussion relates to Rimini Street’s allegations that Oracle engaged in copyright misuse based on two facts: (1) Oracle’s license agreement restricts customers from automated downloads of customer support materials, and (2) Oracle’s public website of customer support materials is so poorly designed that customers need the paid maintenance program to find the materials they actually need. The court rejects these arguments. It says:

The alleged limits on massive automated downloads of Oracle Software and Support materials falls squarely within the scope of Oracle’s right to control reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works….Further, the alleged limitation of crawlers and other automated search tools, which are the core of Rimini Street’s business activities, is only a limitation on third-party business models and is not a restriction on Oracle customers. The licensing agreement does not preclude a customer from using either a competing company or no company at all to access its support materials. As such, it does not constitute copyright misuse.

This seems like an odd distinction to make, but it’s a sign the judge isn’t really interested in Rimini Street’s arguments.

I’m not exactly sure I understand Rimini Street’s litigation game plan. If Oracle can prove its facts, Rimini Street appears to be in serious legal trouble, and these two rulings are hardly encouraging to Rimini Street. I’m also curious if the DOJ will consider criminal prosecutions here, a possibility that remains open in the SAP/TomorrowNow situation.

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