U.S. Supreme Court Limits Award of Costs in Copyright Action

Thursday, March 14, 2019

On March 4, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc., No. 17-1625, --- S.Ct. --- (Mar. 4, 2019), a case addressing the remedies available to a prevailing party under the Copyright Act.   One of the remedies under the Copyright Act involves a discretionary award of “full costs.”  The Court looked to the statutes governing awards of costs (28 U.S.C. §§ 1821, 1920), which specify six categories of litigation expenses that qualify as “costs”, including:  clerk and marshal fees; transcript fees; printing and witness fees; necessary copy fees; docket fees; and compensation for court appointed experts and interpreters.  The appealed Ninth Circuit ruling held that “full costs” also included expert witness fees, e-discovery expenses, and jury consultant fees.  The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the term “full” is a term of quantity or amount and means the complete measure of the “costs.”  In a unanimous ruling of the Court, Justice Kavanaugh concluded that “full” does not expand the definition of the word “costs” under the general statute beyond the six express categories.