Gulfstream Aerospace’s maintenance manuals are not protected by copyright law, according to a September 27 decision by Savannah, Ga. U.S. District Court judge Avant Edenfield. Gulfstream had filed a petition for reconsideration after losing an earlier lawsuit against Camp Systems International, in which Gulfstream claimed that Camp was infringing on Gulfstream copyrights and trademarks. Gulfstream’s lawsuit asked for an injunction to halt Camp from using Gulfstream maintenance manuals in Camp’s maintenance-tracking service. Judge Edenfield ruled against Gulfstream on April 18, and Gulfstream submitted its request for reconsideration in June.
While the judge rejected Gulfstream’s petition for reconsideration of the original claims, Edenfield left open a window for Gulfstream to submit an immediate appeal of the final decision. “The court’s fair-use ruling is a reasonably close call,” the judge wrote in his decision, “and its outcome on appeal will substantially affect the remaining claims and counterclaims in this case. The ruling also turns on important policy considerations in the field of copyright… [and] an immediate appeal…may materially advance the ultimate termination of [this] litigation…”
This dispute centers on Camp’s use of Gulfstream maintenance manuals provided by Gulfstream customers for use in Camp’s maintenance-tracking service. Gulfstream chooses not to sell maintenance manuals to Camp, and therefore Camp asks its customers to provide their own Gulfstream maintenance manuals so Camp can deliver maintenance tracking data.
Gulfstream offers its own competing maintenance-tracking service, called CMP.net, in partnership with AvTrak. The AvTrak service doesn’t rely on copying of Gulfstream data but provides an electronic “pipeline” that enables Gulfstream to deliver the data to its CMP.net customers. Gulfstream objects to Camp’s need to copy portions of the maintenance manual.
The court believes that Camp’s use of Gulfstream’s maintenance manuals is fair use under copyright law. Yet Gulfstream’s refusal to sell manuals to Camp means that Gulfstream is turning down the potential revenue from selling a manual “to hinder Camp’s effort to compete with Gulfstream’s maintenance-tracking service,” according to the judge’s opinion. “It thus may be said to be extending its copyright monopoly power beyond copyright royalty protection and into its non-copyright interest in thwarting Camp’s competition with its maintenance-tracking service.”
Further, Camp’s use of Gulfstream manuals causes no harm under the Copyright Act because “the market for maintenance-tracking services is not a secondary market for maintenance manuals. Rather, it is fair ground for competition. In short, Gulfstream’s manual is a reference used in maintenance-tracking reports, not a basis for those reports.”
Gulfstream argued also that the inability to protect its intellectual property in maintenance manuals might have a detrimental effect on safety because it would not have an incentive to create manuals that exceed FAA regulations that require manufacturers to publish manuals. “Gulfstream has every incentive,” the judge wrote, “to improve its manuals for a very basic and inescapable reason: to improve aircraft servicing efforts worldwide.”
The judge acknowledges that Gulfstream’s production of high-quality maintenance manuals benefits Camp, a competitor. “As unsatisfactory as that seems to Gulfstream, it is inescapably part of the FAA-imposed burden that comes with the benefit of being an aircraft maker.
“[Gulfstream’s] bottom line depends on all service providers optimizing their service to better ensure that no Gulfstream aircraft ever malfunctions, much less crash[es]. This is why the FAA has expressly blessed this result, and it is penny wise and pound foolish to hamper a competing servicer’s efforts in quest of a competitive advantage…”
According to Camp, the court “left open Camp’s counterclaims against Gulfstream for antitrust violations, copyright misuse and tortious interference with Camp’s business relations.”
AIN asked Gulfstream if it would comment on any aspect of this case, including whether it had filed an appeal or is negotiating a settlement with Camp, but the company declined to make a statement.