Rimini Street v. Oracle: The Decision [SCOTUSbrief]
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Rimini Street v. Oracle: The Decision [SCOTUSbrief]

In Rimini Street versus Oracle, the court
addressed whether the phrase ‘full costs’ in the Copyright Act allows for a party to
recover those costs of pretty much every imaginable litigation expense, or if it referred to a
specific set of costs allowed for under federal law. On the one side, you had Oracle which is a
giant software company, and on the other side, you had Rimini Street which sells its services
to customers who have previously purchased Oracle software. Oracle sued Rimini Street in Nevada Federal
District Court alleging that Rimini Street had infringed a number of Oracle’s copyrights
for its software. This case ended up at the Supreme Court after
the Federal District Court awarded Oracle a number of its litigation expenses following
a jury verdict in its favor on the copyright infringement claims. Specifically, Oracle sought two separate categories
of expenses. It sought, on the one hand, what are called
taxable costs, which are those costs allowable under 28 U.S.C. Section 1920. And on the other hand, it sought what are
called non-taxable costs which were a litany of litigation-related expenses that aren’t
expressly allowed for, uh, under federal law. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit, applying circuit
precedent, affirmed that award. Rimini Street then appealed to the Supreme
Court, arguing that non-taxable costs were not allowable under the Copyright Act. The Copyright Act generally governs copyrights
in the United States. The specific provision in question, which
is located at 17 U.S.C. Section 505, allows for a court in its discretion
to award a party “full costs” as well as a reasonable attorney’s fee, if the court so
decides. The difference between taxable and non-taxable
costs turns on this federal statute, 28 U.S.C. Section 1920. That statute delineates six specific categories
of costs that a party can recover. The six categories are really clerical and
administrative costs and certain witness fees that Congress has decided to allow parties
to recover. That set of costs is often referred to colloquially
as taxable costs. Non-taxable costs, on the other hand, is a
term used for basically any litigation-related expenses that aren’t actually provided for
under 28 U.S.C. Section 1920. The term “full costs” in the Copyright Act
hadn’t actually been examined, particularly, by the Supreme Court before this case, and
a circuit split had developed. On the one hand, the Ninth Circuit, invoking
the canon against surplusage, said that “full costs” in the Copyright Act had to mean more than
just the costs allowed in 28 U.S.C. Section 1920. A number of other circuits, however, applying
a clear statement rule, said that “full costs” was only a reference to the costs allowed
in Section 1920 and that the word “full” did not otherwise change the default presumption
that courts adopt. That “costs,” when it appears in federal law,
refers to that list in Section 1920. The court ruled for Rimini Street. It was a unanimous decision and a short opinion
written by Justice Kavanaugh. In short, Justice Kavanaugh agreed the phrase
“full costs” in the Copyright Act did not amount to the expressed statement to allow
recovery of those costs beyond what Section 1920 permits. Justice Kavanaugh endorsed Rimini Street’s
position that “full costs” had to be read according to normal conventions of grammar. “Costs” is the noun. “Full” is the adjective. “Full” describes the scope of costs, but “full”
does not expand what costs are allowable beyond what costs traditionally are. Because the court has read the word “costs”
anytime it appears in federal law to refer to that list of Section 1920 costs, the word
“full” can’t allow for, say, expert witness fees or e-discovery costs such as Oracle
is seeking. “Full” simply describes the scope of those costs
that are recoverable.

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