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A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest. The appellate court uses a "sliding scale" approach to these factors, according to which a stronger showing of one element may offset a weaker showing of another. So, when the balance of hardships tips sharply in the plaintiff's favor, the plaintiff need demonstrate only serious questions going to the merits.
Plaintiff HiQ, a data analytics company, used automated bots to scrape information that LinkedIn users have included on public LinkedIn profiles. LinkedIn sent HiQ a cause-and-desist letter, demanding that HiQ stop accessing and copying data from LinkedIn's server. hiQ filed suit, seeking injunctive relief based on California law and a declaratory judgment that LinkedIn could not lawfully invoke the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA"), the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, California Penal Code § 502(c), or the common law of trespass against it. The district court granted hiQ's motion. It ordered LinkedIn to withdraw its cease-and-desist letter, to remove any existing technical barriers to hiQ's access to public profiles, and to refrain from putting in place any legal or technical measures with the effect of blocking HiQ's access to public profiles. LinkedIn appealed.
Under the circumstances, may HiQ obtain injunctive relief in order to prevent LinkedIn from putting any barriers to HiQ’s access to public LinkedIn profiles?
The panel affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction forbidding the professional networking website LinkedIn Corp. from denying plaintiff HiQ, a data analytics company, access to publicly available LinkedIn member profiles. According to the Court, HiQ established a likelihood of irreparable harm because the survival of its business was threatened. The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in balancing the equities and concluding that, even if some LinkedIn users retain some privacy interests in their information notwithstanding their decision to make their profiles public, those interests did not outweigh HiQ's interest in continuing its business. Thus, the balance of hardships tipped decidedly in favor of hiQ. The panel further held that hiQ raised serious questions going to (1) the merits of its claim for tortious interference with contract, alleging that LinkedIn intentionally interfered with its contracts with third parties, and (2) the merits of LinkedIn's legitimate business purpose defense. HiQ also raised a serious question as to whether its state law causes of action were preempted by the CFAA, which prohibited intentionally accessing a computer without authorization, or exceeding authorized access, and thereby obtaining information from any protected computer. Finally, the panel held that the district court's conclusion that the public interest favored granting the preliminary injunction was appropriate.