Recent Judgment Against Oracle Could Bode Well for hiQ in Battle With LinkedIn

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Jan 17, 2018

Until recently, I had never heard of Rimini Street, a publicly traded company that provides third-party software support services to companies like Oracle, SAP, IBM, and Microsoft. Fortunately, who it is and what it does for a living are irrelevant for the purposes of this post.

What it was sued for, along with a verdict recently handed down in a case against Oracle, however, are potentially very important to readers. If you’ve been keeping up with the case of hiQ against industry titan LinkedIn, then this judgment should be particularly intriguing.

Here’s a little background. In 2010, Oracle sued Rimini Street for violating its terms of service, which basically said Rimini Street’s service of automatically downloading Oracle software for Rimini’s customers, which were also Oracle’s clients, was no longer allowed. Plenty of stuff online if you want to learn more.

Anyway, earlier this month, an appeals court in California ruled in favor of both parties on two separate issues. For Oracle, Rimini Street was found guilty of violating copyrights held by Oracle on software the company downloaded from the website of Oracle and supplied to other users. Rimini Street, as a result, will have to write a pretty big check.

“The licensees may hire a third party such as Rimini to maintain their software for them, but nothing in the licenses permit them to grant a non-party to the license a general right to copy proprietary software,” the court said in a 3-0 ruling.

In Rimini Street’s favor, the court overturned the jury’s findings that they had violated California computer laws by using automatic downloading tools to retrieve software files for its customers, even though it was in violation of Oracle’s terms of service. Since Rimini had legal access to the files, the court said, its use of tools, known as “scrapers,” was not illegal.

This is where hiQ comes in and, ultimately, why ERE readers should start paying attention.

HiQ, as many readers know, is in a legal battle with LinkedIn, who believes hiQ’s practice of scraping LinkedIn’s publicly available profile data for its customers is a big no-no. HiQ won an injunction against LinkedIn early, but LinkedIn is appealing. It’s promising to be a tough fight for hiQ, who has nowhere near LinkedIn’s money and resources.

The Oracle case is a win for web scrapers, however, and could positively impact hiQ’s case. Jeremy Fogel, a federal judge from San Jose temporarily assigned to the appeals court in the Rimini Street case, said the law in California was intended to stop “unauthorized taking or use of information.” He added, because Rimini “indisputably had such authorization” to the Oracle files, its use of an unauthorized method did not violate the law, even if it violated Oracle’s stated terms of use.

“The Oracle appeals court corrected the lower court’s decision on automated data collection and got it right, said Mark Weidick, CEO of hiQ Labs. “It is not a criminal act to auto download public data. LinkedIn should take notice. It doesn’t own public data, its members do, and the method used to collect the publicly accessible portion isn’t relevant.”

At oral argument in July 2017, judge Susan Graber disagreed with Oracle’s argument that scraping was against the law. She said taking data using a method prohibited by a company’s terms of service, such as scraping, does not violate the law when the taking itself generally is permitted. Translation: Using automated tools to access publicly available information on the Internet — information that we are all authorized to access under the Web’s open access norms — is not a crime.

The judgment in favor of Rimini Street on this issue couldn’t come at a a better time for hiQ. The court will begin hearing oral arguments regarding its case against LinkedIn in March in San Francisco.

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