MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc.
991 F.2d 511 (9th Cir. 1993)

  • MAI made computer software. After the software was installed on a customer's computers they often maintained the customers' computer systems for an additional cost.
  • A few MAI employees defected to a competitor named Peak. Peak stole some of MAI's maintenance contracts.
  • MAI sued Peak for copyright infringement.
    • MAI argued that in order to perform maintenance, you had to run the program. That entailed making a copy of the program from the hard drive onto the computer's RAM.
      • MAI argued that they had sold a license to the users to make copies, but that license did not allow third parties like Peak to make copies.
  • The Trial Court found for MAI. Peak appealed
    • Peak argued that they were not making a copy by running the software, because the image of the program on the RAM was temporary and therefore not fixed.
      • 17 U.S.C. 102(a) requires that a work must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court looked to the statutory definition of the word 'copy' in 17 U.S.C. 101 and found that loading the software onto the RAM met the definition.
    • The Court found that the image on the RAM was "sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration." Therefore it was fixed for purposes of 102(a).
  • This was a silly result, because Peak could just ask the licensee to boot up the software and there would be no copyright violation. MAI was mostly suing because they just didn't like Peak stealing their computer maintenance business.
    • MAI wasn't interested in copyright per se, they were just trying to leverage copyright law in an anti-competitive way.