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CFAA requires intent to cause harm, not merely intent to transmit

Kalow & Springnut, LLP v. Commence Corporation, 2008 WL 2557506 (D.N.J. June 23, 2008)

The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. §1030 et seq. creates civil liability for anyone who “knowingly causes the transmissions of a program, information, code, or command, and as a result of such conduct intentionally causes damage without authorization, to a protected computer.” Does this mean that the defendant has to intend to cause harm, or does it simply mean that the defendant merely intended to cause the transmission? The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey chose the former in the recent case of Kalow & Springnut, LLP v. Commence Corporation, 2008 WL 2557506 (D.N.J. June 23, 2008).

Plaintiff Kalow got hooked on the defendant’s software, which converted and stored plaintiff’s data in a proprietary format. In March 2006 the software stopped working because of a purported “time bomb” that defendant included in the application. To get the program working again, Kalow had to upgrade at a cost of over $15,000.

Kalow sued, and claimed, among other things, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The defendant moved to dismiss, and the court granted the motion with leave to amend.

In its complaint, Kalow had alleged that the defendant “intentionally transmitted a software code” to Kalow’s computer system and that the “software code [that defendant] intentionally transmitted to these computer systems caused damage to them.” The court found that these allegations were insufficient, as Kalow had not actually averred that defendant intended to cause harm.

The court rejected Kalow’s reliance on the case of Shaw v. Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., 91 F.Supp.2d 926 (E.D.Tex.1999), concluding that the plaintiffs therein not only pled that the defendants knowingly had transmitted code, but that the defendants “knew [it] would cause the loss and corruption of data….” The court similarly rejected Kalow’s reliance on North Texas Preventive Imaging, LLC v. Eisenberg, No. 96-0071, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19990, observing that the 1994 amendments to the CFAA embodied Congress’s aim to emphasize harmful intent and resultant harm rather than just unauthorized access.