The Supreme Court recently defined “full costs” in relation to the assessment of expenses to a winning copyright infringement party.  Oracle, USA, Inc. prevailed in a copyright infringement action over Rimini Street, Inc. in which a jury award $12.8 million to Oracle.  This $12.8 million award included litigation fees for expert witnesses, e-discovery, and jury consulting.  The award was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Rimini Street, Inc. appealed this issue to the Supreme Court.

The six categories of litigation expenses that can be awarded to a prevailing party in a civil action are listed under 28 U.S.C., Sections 1821 and 1920; nowhere in these statutes are fees for expert witnesses, jury consultancy, or e-discovery.  Oracle asserted that “full costs” is a historical term of art as used in the Copyright Act.

The Court held, instead, that the “costs” which may be awarded to a prevailing party, are set forth in Sections 1821 and 1920; a court does not have discretion to award litigation expenses not listed in these statutes.  “Full,” the Court held, refers to a “term of quantity or amount,” meaning 0%-100% of the litigation expenses listed in Sections 1821 and 1920.  The term “full” does not extend to additional costs outside of those included in the statutes.

In support of its holding, the Supreme Court pointed to Section 505 of the Copyright Act which reads, “In any civil action under this title, the court in its discretion may allow the recovery of full costs . . . the court may also award a reasonable attorney’s fee to the prevailing party as part of the costs.”  The Court explained that in the context of the Copyright Act, if “full” was intended by Congress to include every possible fee, it would render the second sentence of Section 505 wholly unnecessary, because attorneys’ fees would have been included within the first sentence referring to “full costs”.

This decision makes clear that even in a copyright infringement action, “full costs” refer to only those costs specified in Sections 1821 and 1920; litigation expenses not so specified are not eligible to be awarded to a prevailing party. The full opinion can be found here.

If you have questions about copyright law, contact Jim Astrachan at (410) 783-3550.