California software company sues University of Rhode Island for DMCA violation
On January 25, 2021, Synopsys, Inc. ("Synopsys" or the "Company") brought suit against the University of Rhode Island ("URI"). Synopsys is a software company that specializes in Electronic Design Automation ("EDA"), a field of software that allows users to design electronic circuits for use in semiconductors and to simulate and verify the performance of those designs.
According to the Company's Complaint, Synopsys licenses its software rather than selling it, giving licensees access to the applications through use of protective "license key" files. Synopsys provides these files to licensees through a system that allows it to verify licensed uses.
The Complaint alleges that parties at URI, which licenses EDA software from Synopsys, has been using counterfeit license key files to access the Synopsys software instead of using the proper method. Synopsys alleges that more than 135,000 uses of counterfeit license keys occurred on at least two workstations connected to URI's network. According to the Complaint, because Synopsys' software is copyrighted material and is protected by anticircumvention measures, use of the counterfeit license keys constitutes piracy and violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
In addition to the relief and damages requested in its Complaint, Synopsys filed a Motion requesting (1) a temporary restraining order keeping URI from using its products without permission; (2) an order requiring URI to show why a preliminary injunction should not issue; and (3) an order to allow expedited discovery in connection with the URI computers through which the unlicensed uses occurred.
URI filed a Response in opposition to the motion, arguing against each of its three requests. These arguments emphasize (1) Synopsys' allegedly "dilatory" response to the alleged piracy (according to URI, the Company's security software first notified it of potential counterfeit license key use in November of 2020); (2) the "immediate actions" URI has taken to preserve evidence and prevent further misconduct; and (3) concerns about giving Synopsys unfettered access to the computers at issue, since they also likely contain private and proprietary information unrelated to this case.
On February 4, 2021, the court responded to the filings and associated oral arguments with an Order granting the requests for a temporary restraining order and expedited discovery. In its Order, the court found "that Synopsys is likely to succeed on the merits of its claim" that URI violated Section 1201 of the DMCA "by circumventing Synopsys’ technological measures to gain unauthorized access to Synopsys copyright protected software." The court also ordered that discovery examining the computers will be subject to a forensic agreement between the parties and will be conducted by a neutral, third-party consultant.