HARLAN WINS MAJOR REVERSAL ON AOL LAWSUIT

February 10, 2004 - Harlan should now have the opportunity to bring his AOL lawsuit before a jury. On appeal, the United State Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reversed, in part, the summary judgement dismissal of the case by the district court.

Specifically, the appeals court found that there were "triable issues of material fact concerning whether AOL meets the threshold requirements [..] to assert the safe harbor limitations of liability." This means that the court decided it should be up to a jury to ascertain whether or not AOL qualifies for protection from the lawsuit under the DMCA, and the case has in fact been remanded back to the district court for a jury trial.

The published court decision (86k PDF file, requires adobe acrobat reader)

I will have more information here as it becomes available. As I read the decision, the case will go to trial to determine if AOL is guilty of contributory copyright infringment. If AOL is found guilty of this, the trial will also decide whether or not AOL qualifies for safe harbor under the DMCA. The appeals court affirmed the district court decision on vicarious copyright infringment, so there will be no trial on those grounds.

Here is the text of the conclusion from the published court decision above:
We conclude that the district court correctly identified triable issues of fact with respect to Ellison’s claim against AOL for contributory copyright infringement. We also agree with the district court that Ellison’s claim for vicarious copyright infringement fails; Ellison did not offer sufficient evidence that AOL received a direct financial benefit from the infringement to survive summary judgment. Further, because we conclude that the district court failed to discern triable issues of fact concerning AOL’s threshold eligibility under § 512(i) for the DMCA’s safe harbor limitations of liability, we reverse the district court’s judgment on this matter. If a jury determines that AOL is eligible for the DMCA’s safe harbor limitations of liability under § 512(i), the parties do not need to relitigate whether AOL satisfies the requirements of § 512(a) in this case; we agree with the district court that it does. In sum, we AFFIRM in part and REVERSE in part the district court’s summary judgment in favor of AOL. We REMAND for trial on Ellison’s claim of contributory copyright liability, and, if necessary, on AOL’s eligibility under § 512(i) to assert the DMCA’s safe harbor limitations of liability. Each party to bear its own costs.

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