A few years ago, the company behind one of the world’s most popular apps, Airbnb, went to the police for alleged copyright infringement.
But this year, Airbnb has gone to the court, seeking to get a judicial review of its legal rights.
The company claims that the courts should be able to enforce its copyrights against its customers.
The new case, which has been set up by Airbnb, concerns whether Airbnb can claim copyright infringement on the software it uses to make its app, as well as on its hosts’ names and images.
“There’s nothing in the US copyright law that allows Airbnb to claim copyright against its users,” says John McVicar, a lawyer who represents Airbnb in the case.
The firm argues that, unlike most companies, it can’t rely on its own users to pay for hosting services that it provides to others.
The US copyright system is based on a system of exceptions.
It does not permit copyright holders to claim that their software is an integral part of their products.
But, says Mr McVianar, that does not mean they are free from legal liability.
That means, for example, that, for some hosts, hosting services are a necessary evil.
“That’s not the case with Airbnb,” he says.
Airbnb’s software has become a popular choice for booking services. “
The copyright owner will sue you for that.”
Airbnb’s software has become a popular choice for booking services.
And it has attracted a lot of interest from hosts, especially for those who want to avoid paying the usual rental fees.
But copyright infringement cases are difficult to prosecute.
The US Copyright Office is not involved in this particular case, says Aaron Gompertz, an attorney at the law firm Jones Day who is representing Airbnb.
But the US Copyright Act does grant some special rights to software companies.
The software itself, called software-as-service (SaaS), is supposed to be free of charge.
The copyright holder of software has the right to make it available to users.
The user can download and install it, and users can make money from its use.
But that’s not what the US Courts have interpreted, says Michael Soder, an intellectual property lawyer at the firm Pinsent Masons.
Soder says the US courts have interpreted the DMCA to allow copyright holders only to take action against users who install software without permission.
That may sound reasonable, but it’s not.
“Copyright holders have the power to stop someone from installing software without paying for it,” he explains.
“They don’t have the right not to do it.
So, for that reason, the DMCA gives them that power.”
A big problem for software copyright holders, says Soder and other copyright law experts, is that the law is complex.
If an app’s name is not trademarked in the country where it is sold, it cannot be used as a trademark, which could create problems for software companies looking to sell their software.
And software that is downloaded by thousands of users is almost certainly not copyrighted.
“When someone wants to use a software and doesn’t have a license, that is an exception to copyright law,” says Sader.
“So the software owner is effectively going to have to pay a very high amount of money to prevent a copyright holder from suing them.”
There are some cases where software companies have won cases against copyright holders who used their software without the permission of the copyright holders.
In a case brought by the music label Universal Music, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in which the judge ruled that software companies can use their software to make money.
In another case, a software company called Avid has appealed against a court decision that ruled that it cannot use its software to distribute music without permission from the copyright holder.
“It’s hard to think of a case where copyright law has been better served by the DMCA,” says McVial.
The case, called Aereo v Universal Music Corp, could decide whether software companies are allowed to use their technology to distribute audio content without permission, or whether they can.
And if the case goes to the US Supreme Court, it could set a precedent for copyright law in the rest of the developed world.
“If this appeals, it would be a significant step forward,” says Mr Soder.
“I don’t think copyright law is going to get any better, but that would be very positive news.”