by Tim Bukher
In CollegeSource the plaintiff provided premium course catalog hosting services to colleges which catalogs defendants “scraped” off the the website in order to populate their own competing database.
Plaintiff sued for breach of contract, unjust enrichment (as an alternative to the contract breach claim) and for violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Defendant moved for summary judgment, which led to some interesting decisions on all three points:
- No unjust enrichment under federal preemption doctrine: The general doctrine of federal preemption holds that federal law on “controlling” issues preempts state law on the same issues. In this case, the state cause of action for unjust enrichment (e.g., Defendant’s enrichment from wrongly scraping and selling the data) was preempted by federal copyright law. The court did not opine on whether Defendant’s use of the data constituted copyright infringement (this will be left for a later motion), but it is unlikely that catalog data would receive anything more than slight copyright protection.
- No Computer Fraud and Abuse: This one is fairly simple since the documents “scraped” were otherwise public, there was no real “unauthorized access” within the meaning of the CFA.
The unjust enrichment ruling actually raises the most interesting question from a procedural point of view: If the copied material is in fact found not to be copyrightable, should the unjust enrichment claim have been preempted? Perhaps a question for the appellate courts.
Tell us what do you think.
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