Gulfstream lawsuit tackles copyright issues

Aviation International News » July 2006
September 14, 2006, 7:36 AM

Gulfstream Aerospace has asked U.S. district court judge Avant Edenfield to reconsider his decision in a lawsuit brought by Gulfstream against Camp Systems International. The dispute centers on what Gulfstream asserts is Camp’s unauthorized use of the OEM’s maintenance manuals. Gulfstream sought damages for copyright and trademark infringement and an injunction to prevent Camp from continuing to use Gulfstream’s manuals.

On April 18 the judge ruled against Gulfstream, granting a motion for summary judgment to Camp on Gulfstream’s copyright and trade- mark claims and denying Gulfstream’s motion for summary judgment on the copyright claims. Gulf- stream submitted its request for reconsideration in mid-June.

On June 8, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) submitted an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief asking for reconsideration of or permission to appeal the April 18 verdict.

Camp provides customers maintenance-tracking services that include delivery of maintenance-due lists and task cards for specific maintenance procedures. The information provided by Camp includes material from manufacturers’ maintenance manuals. In 2004, at the request of customers, Camp added large Gulfstream jets to its product list.

Unlike other manufacturers, Gulfstream “refused to sell its maintenance manuals to Camp,” according to the judge’s decision. The decision also notes that “Gulfstream competes with Camp for the maintenance-tracking service of Gulfstream aircraft, as Gulfstream offers computerized maintenance tracking to the owners and operators of its aircraft.”

Camp asked its Gulfstream customers to provide a copy of the Gulf- stream maintenance manual as part of the subscription agreement with Camp. “Camp considered this a legitimate transfer of the manuals,” according to the decision, “because Gulfstream expressly allows the owner of a Gulfstream aircraft to disclose or transmit the contents of his manual to others ‘to maintain, operate or repair the aircraft.’”

The judge noted that Gulfstream isn’t losing any sales of the manuals, which cost $8,500 per year, as a result of Camp’s request. And Gulfstream conceded that Camp’s use of its manuals does adversely affect Gulfstream’s maintenance-tracking business. In any case, FAA regulations require manufacturers to provide maintenance data to maintainers [FAR 21.50(b)], whether or not they have a formal relationship with the manufacturer. There is no mention, however, of third parties such as Camp, which facilitate but don’t perform maintenance.

Because Gulfstream objected to Camp’s use of its manuals, Camp wrote to the FAA, according to the decision, asking for a ruling on the issue. The FAA said that Gulfstream was under no obligation to provide the manuals to Camp but it is required to deliver them to Gulfstream owners, “who may then choose to utilize Camp’s tracking services.”

In its response, the FAA “blessed Camp’s use of the Gulfstream owners’ own manuals,” the decision noted. The FAA letter stated, “The FAA considers it contrary to the intent of the regulation for a design approval holder to restrict the ability of an owner to use those [manuals] to either perform, or facilitate the performance of, required maintenance on a product.”

With no resolution in sight, Gulfstream sued Camp, which responded by seeking a summary judgment on Gulfstream’s copyright and trademark infringement claims. Then Gulfstream also asked for summary judgment on its claims.

The judge rejected Gulfstream’s claims, writing that “the purpose of copyright law is ‘to promote the progress of science and useful arts.’ However, the court has already noted that giving copyright protection to these federally mandated manuals serves neither of these aims. Copyright law does not mean to protect an ‘author’ such as Gulfstream on these facts, where Gulfstream’s desire for copyright protection has nothing to do with needing an incentive to create its manuals.

“Rather, what Gulfstream seeks here is to use its claimed copyright in its manuals to gain a judicially enhanced monopoly in maintenance- tracking services for Gulfstream aircraft. That outcome would be injurious to the free-market public policy advanced through antitrust and restraint-of-trade laws. It would be especially egregious since Gulfstream is required by federal regulations to produce the manuals anyway. Gulfstream’s monopolization efforts should not get an assist from the court through an expansive reading of copyright law. It does not take
an economic visionary to see that granting manufacturers copyright in their federally mandated maintenance manuals would create service monopolies for those manufacturers, thus decreasing service-center choices (and potentially safety) for consumers in the aircraft industry and other industries.”
Camp, the court concluded, made fair use of Gulfstream’s maintenance manuals.

Camp also did not violate Gulfstream’s trademark because it issued a disclaimer of sponsorship in documents sent to customers.

In its June 8 brief, GAMA argued that the court “erroneously misinterpreted the relationship between FAA regulations and copyright law in a way that will seriously jeopardize the proprietary interests that GAMA members have in their maintenance manuals.” GAMA maintains that manufacturers won’t have incentives “to produce the most complete and informative manuals possible, a result that would not be in the best interest of aviation safety.”

With regard to the copyright issues, GAMA disagreed with the judge’s conclusion that the FAA mandate requiring manufacturers
to publish maintenance manuals leaves little room for copyrightable creative expression. The FAA guidelines are general and not so specific that no creative input is used in developing the manuals, GAMA argued. Something as complex as an aircraft demands creative expression to cover everything maintainers need to know to keep the airplane safe, which exceeds the FAA’s minimum requirements.

GAMA also disagreed with the judge’s conclusions about Gulfstream’s service monopoly. In its response to Camp, the FAA “confirmed that Camp ‘is not a person required to comply with the terms of [Instructions for Continued Airworthiness] under the meaning of our regulation (FAR 21.50(b)).’” Gulfstream is therefore not required to provide manuals to Camp, GAMA stated.

GAMA concluded that it submitted its brief to try to protect
the intellectual property rights of its manufacturer members and to encourage the court not to discourage manufacturers from developing comprehensive maintenance manuals that enhance safety. If the court won’t reconsider, GAMA asked it at least to allow Gulfstream to appeal the decision.

“CAMP provides a great service for many manufacturers,” said Walter DeRosier, GAMA’s v-p for engineering and maintenance. “But CAMP is reselling and making a profit on data that it didn’t have access to. It’s violating copyright.”

The court correctly notes that Gulfstream sells its own maintenance-tracking service, called CMP.net. But it neglected to note that Gulfstream sells it to operators of other types as well.

Gulfstream partners with a maintenance-tracking company called AvTrak to provide the CMP.net service. And a significant technological difference between CMP.net and Camp is that CMP.net does not provide portions of maintenance manuals to customers. AvTrak’s system enables manufacturers to deliver the necessary parts of their maintenance manuals directly to the end user, avoiding any potential copyright violation issues and allowing the manufacturers to maintain direct control of their manuals.

AIN asked Gulfstream, Camp and AvTrak for input on this issue, but the companies declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Copyright attorney William Patry doesn’t believe that the courts will grant the request for reconsideration or appeal. He told AIN, “Unless they can point out some particular error of law or fact that the judge made, it isn’t going to cut it.”

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