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On March 4, 2019, the Supreme Court decided Rimini Street Inc v. Oracle USA Inc., a case involving the scope of a federal district court’s ability to award “full costs” to a party in a copyright dispute according to 28 U. S. C. §§ 1821 and 1920.

Oracle sued Rimini Street for copyright infringement in federal district court and won a multimillion dollar jury award.  After judgment, the District Court ordered Rimini Street to pay Oracle $12.8 million for litigation expenses such as expert witnesses, e-discovery, and jury consulting. On appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals for the NInth Circuit rejected Rimini’s challenge to this award of costs.  Although some of the expenses did not fit within the categories of costs authorized by the general federal statute applicable to such awards--28 U. S. C. §§ 1821 and 1920--the Ninth Circuit relied on language in the Copyright Act at 17 U. S. C. § 505, which gives federal district courts discretion to award “full costs” to a party in copyright litigation. 

The Supreme Court thereafter granted certiorari to resolve a split among the federal circuit courts of appeals on this issue: whether the term “full costs” in § 505 authorizes awards of expenses other than those costs identified in §§ 1821 and 1920. 

In an unanimous decision, delivered by Justice Kavanaugh, the Court held that a federal district court’s discretion to award “full costs” to a party in copyright litigation pursuant to 17 U. S. C. §505 is limited to the six categories specified in the general costs statute codified at 28 U. S. C. §§1821 and 1920. 

To discuss the case, we have James Heilpern, Law and Linguistics Fellow at BYU Law.