“Copyright misuse” not an independent cause of action

Ticketmaster L.L.C. v. RMG Technologies, Inc., — F.Supp.2d —-, 2008 WL 649788 (C. D. Cal. March 10, 2008)

Last October I wrote about a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in the case of Ticketmaster L.L.C. v. RMG Technologies, Inc. You may recall that the court granted an injunction against RMG’s automated software that accessed Ticketmaster’s Web site, allegedly in violation of the DMCA anticircumvention provisions (17 U.S.C. §1201 et seq.) as well as the site’s terms of use. Because of such ruthless behavior on the part of RMG, some parents were evidently denied the chance to purchase Hannah Montana tickets for their daughters. (How can we be concerned about the economy or the war on terror when things like that are going on?)

RMG didn’t give up after last October’s injunction against it, but went on the offensive, filing a counterclaim against Ticketmaster alleging, among other things, copyright misuse. In general, the doctrine of copyright misuse prevents copyright holders from leveraging their limited monopoly to allow them control of areas outside that monopoly. Trying to extract a licensing fee for the use of a work in the public domain would be a clear example of copyright misuse.

The problem for RMG was that copyright misuse is a defense to an infringement action, not a cause of action in itself. And the court recognized that, citing to a number of cases, including:

  • Altera Corp. v. Clear Logic, Inc., 424 F.3d 1079, 1090 (9th Cir.2005) (affirming district court’s refusal to “extend [ ] the doctrine of copyright misuse beyond ‘its logical place as a defense to a claim of copyright infringement’ ”)
  • Practice Mgmt. Info. Corp. v. American Medical Ass’n, 121 F.3d 516, 520 (9th Cir.1997) (adopting rule that “misuse is a defense to copyright infringement”)
  • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 269 F.Supp.2d 1213, 1225 (C.D.Cal.2003) (noting that, as even defendant conceded, “copyright misuse cannot found a claim for damages”)

Accordingly, the court granted Ticketmaster’s motion to dismiss the claim for copyright misuse. Leaving no uncertainty, the court continued by observing that because “this holding is not based on the way in which this claim was pled, but on the fact that no such claim can ever be pled, the dismissal of this claim is WITH PREJUDICE, as no possible amendment could save it.”

How’s that for black letter law?