‘Full Moon’ Costs Denied by Supreme Court in Oracle Copyright Case

By: Jonathan D. Goins, Robert M. CollinsJohn T. Rose

On March 4, 2019, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision overturning the Ninth Circuit Court's award of $12.8 million in costs in the copyright infringement matter Rimini Street, Inc. et al v. Oracle USA, Inc. et al. No. 17-1625, slip op. (U.S. Mar. 4, 2019.). Newly confirmed Justice Kavanaugh penned the opinion for the Court, holding that the Ninth Circuit's expanded view of "full costs" set forth in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1920 and 1821 was improper, going beyond the "costs" typically available to copyright litigants.

In the highly anticipated ruling, the Court held that Section 505 of the Copyright Act does not afford federal district courts the authority to award additional costs not otherwise identified in the statute. Justice Kavanaugh adopted a rather colorful analogy in making his point, writing: “The word ‘full’ operates in the phrase ‘full costs’ just as it operates in other common phrases: A ‘full moon’ means the moon, not Mars. A ‘full breakfast’ means breakfast, not lunch. A ‘full season ticket plan’ means tickets, not hot dogs.”

The Court's ruling clarifies that while certain costs can be awarded in litigation, copyright claimants may not obtain recovery for costs beyond what is statutorily provided. Although Rimini lost its copyright infringement case to Oracle, its successful appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s allowance of litigation expenses saved it $12.8 million, counting its lucky stars that while Oracle may have been granted a "full moon”, it was at least denied in its reach for “Mars”.

Given the national significance of the high court’s ruling, the decision reminds copyright claimants of the costs available to a prevailing copyright litigant, and to be wary of overreach in efforts to recoup costs. Get more details of this decision in our client alert from March 12th.

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