Law School Case Brief
Assessment Techs. of WI, LLC v. WIREdata, Inc. - 350 F.3d 640 (7th Cir. 2003)
The argument for applying copyright misuse beyond the bounds of antitrust, besides the fact that confined to antitrust the doctrine would be redundant, is that for a copyright owner to use an infringement suit to obtain property protection that copyright law clearly does not confer, hoping to force a settlement or even achieve an outright victory over an opponent that may lack the resources or the legal sophistication to resist effectively, is an abuse of process.
Assessment Technologies (AT) brought suit for copyright infringement and theft of trade secrets against WIREdata. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court issued a permanent injunction on the basis of AT's copyright claim alone, without reaching the trade secret claim. A sample database in the demo version of AT's product--a version freely distributed for promotional purposes--revealed the entire structure of the database, thus making the trade secret claim incomprehensible to the court. The copyright case sought to block WIREdata from obtaining noncopyrighted data. AT claimed that the data could not be extracted without infringement of its copyright. The copyright was of a compilation, and the general issue that the appeal presents was the right of the owner of such a copyright to prevent his customers (that is, the copyright licensees) from disclosing the compiled data, even if the data are in the public domain.
Issue: Did AT have a right, as the owner of a copyright, to prevent his customers from disclosing the compiled data even if the data are in the public domain?
Did AT have a right, as the owner of a copyright, to prevent his customers from disclosing the compiled data even if the data are in the public domain?
While it was true that AT had a valid copyright based on the sorting of the data into various fields and tables, the underlying data was not copyrighted, and potentially it was subject to the state's open records law, although the court did not reach that issue. In any event, WIREdata was not seeking the compilation but the raw data that the assessors had inputted into the system. The court noted that for a copyright owner to use an infringement suit to obtain property protection that copyright law did not confer would be an abuse of process. The court identified four possible methods of obtaining the data which the municipalities could use without infringing the copyright.
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