CASE STUDY: IS IT A CRIME TO VIOLATE A WEBSITE’S TERMS OF SERVICE?
The Case: Oracle v. Rimini Street
Central Issue: Rimini Street (“Rimini”), a third-party support company, used automated scripts to download Oracle’s customer service manual. Oracle had granted Rimini permission to manually download the material (one document at a time), but its terms of service forbade the use of scrapping scripts.
For its part, Rimini argued it was necessary to break Oracle’s terms of service to best serve clients.
Claimant’s (Oracle’s) Legal Argument: Back in 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that failure to comply with website terms does not constitute a criminal violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In an attempt to circumvent the ruling, Oracle used state laws in California and Nevada to sue Rimini.
District Court Ruling: The District Court sided with Oracle, citing violations of both California’s and Nevada’s computer crime statutes.
The Backlash: With the philosophical backing of online consumer advocate groups, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Rimini appealed. In an amicus brief, the EFF criticized the District Court’s ruling for turning “millions of Internet users into criminals on the basis of innocuous and routine online conduct.”
Since terms of service agreements frequently go unread, the EFF argued that the Rule of Lenity — a longstanding legal standard requiring clear notice of criminality for conviction — was not met. Moreover, the consumer group reasoned that “the bounds of criminal law should not be defined by the preferences of website operators.”
Ninth Circuit Ruling: Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit sided with Rimini. The 3-judge panel reasoned:
Case Impact: Reinforced precedent that breaking a website’s terms of service does not, alone, amount to criminality.
Why Should I Invest In Customized Website Terms of Service Agreements?
You may be thinking: What’s the point in having a lawyer draft customized terms if they’re not enforceable?
But remember, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling focused on criminal charges. Contracts still factor prominently in civil cases and serve as liability shields. Or, to put it another way: Contracts are like pants; you might not always prefer to wear them, but it always helps to have a pair on in public.
Contact A Terms of Service Lawyer
If you need terms or contracts drafted for a website, app, or software program, give us a call. Our firm has worked with countless companies — from sole proprietors to Fortune 500 companies — on all manners of terms, contracts, and agreements. Get in touch today to begin the conversation. Consultations are free.
Williams, Jamie. “Ninth Circuit Doubles Down: Violating a Website’s Terms of Service Is Not a Crime.” Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10 Jan. 2018, www.eff.org/deeplinks/2018/01/ninth-circuit-doubles-down-violating-websites-terms-service-not-crime.