The Supreme Court issued two decisions that specifically addressed copyright law on March 4, 2019. This blog post will discuss the decision relating to awarding copyright-infringement costs to the winner of a copyright-infringement lawsuit.

In Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc., 586 U.S. ___ (2019), the Supreme Court considered what constituted “full costs” within the context of an award of costs to the winning party in a copyright-infringement lawsuit.

In most federal lawsuits, a judge can award certain costs to the winner. These costs are grouped within six categories set forth in two statutes, 28 U. S. C. §§1821 and 1920. These costs include the fees associated with obtaining transcripts, the fees to obtain certain copies, certain witness fees, etc. However, these statutory costs do not include all costs that a party to a copyright lawsuit is likely to incur, such as expert-witness fees, ediscovery costs and jury consulting costs.

The Copyright Act includes a statute, 17 U.S. Code § 505, that states that a judge has the discretion to award the winner of a copyright infringement his or her “full costs by or against any party other than the United States or an officer thereof.” Id.

The Rimini Street Court had to determine whether the use of the phrase “full costs” indicated that the scope of the cost award could exceed the six categories of costs set forth in 28 U. S. C. §§1821 and 1920. The amount at issue was significant because it exceeded $12 million.

The Court reviewed past precedents and determined that the statutory language needed to be explicit before a court could go beyond the six categories of costs in crafting such an award. The Court reasoned that the phrase “full costs” was not sufficiently explicit to justify such an award. As a result, successful litigants can only recover costs that fall within the scope of the six categories set forth in 28 U. S. C. §§1821 and 1920.