March 04, 2019

Supreme Court Decides Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc.

On March 4, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc., No. 17-1625, holding that a court’s discretion under section 505 of the Copyright Act to award “full costs” to the prevailing party in copyright litigation is limited to the six categories of costs specified by Congress in the general federal costs statute, codified at 28 U.S.C. §§ 1821 and 1920. 

A jury awarded Oracle damages after concluding that Rimini Street had infringed various Oracle copyrights and violated certain California and Nevada statutes. The district court awarded Oracle costs and attorney’s fees, and also ordered Rimini Street to pay Oracle $12.8 million for litigation expenses such as expert witnesses, e-discovery, and jury consulting. Rimini Street appealed the cost award to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the award of costs, holding that although the cost award covered expenses that are not included within the six categories of costs listed in the federal cost statute, codified at 28 U.S.C. §§ 1821 and 1920, the award was nevertheless appropriate because section 505 of the Copyright Act gives district courts discretion to award “full costs” to a party in copyright litigation, and that that term was not confined to the six categories of costs listed in §§ 1821 and 1920.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Court held that when Congress refers simply to “costs,” it is referring to the costs specified in §§ 1821 and 1920. If Congress wants to provide for the award of costs beyond the six categories specified in the general costs statute, Congress does so expressly. For example, section 505 of the Copyright Act itself provides for an award of attorney’s fees in addition to costs. Other statutes expressly authorize awards of expert-witness fees. But without such express authorization, courts may not award as “costs” litigation expenses that are not specified in §§ 1821 and 1920. The Court rejected the argument that Congress’ use of the word “full” in section 505 of the Copyright Act authorized courts to award more than the costs specified in §§ 1821 and 1920, holding that the word “full” simply referred to the costs provided for in §§ 1821 and 1920.

Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Download Opinion of the Court.
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