Datel Holdings Ltd. v. Microsoft Corporation
United States District Court, Northern District of California
Case No. 2009-cv-05535, Filed November 20, 2009

Back in 2009, Microsoft issued a remote update that stopped third-party accessory maker, Datel’s, memory cards from working on Xbox consoles. These cards are used to store game data when gamers play online. Microsoft sells its own line of data cards for Xbox. Datel sued and in its complaint alleged that Microsoft’s actions were anticompetitive because the disabling of the cards was intended “to perpetuate Microsoft’s market power.” Microsoft response countered that its actions were protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because Datel’s memory cards were circumventing an Xbox memory card authentication sequence—a sequence that allows limited access to copyright game data such as gamer profiles and Xbox Live achievements.

This case concerns an area of law in relation to the DMCA that it still in flux—can there be a breach of the DMCA even though the circumvention in question had no infringing intent or purpose? One major case on point is the Lexmark decision coming out of the Sixth Circuit, where the court found that a company that made microchips unlocking Lexmark printers to enable them to use unauthorized ink cartridges, was not liable under the DMCA. Another major case, going in the opposite direction, was the World of Warcraft case coming out of the Ninth Circuit where the court found that a bot that automatically played the lower levels of WWC for the user was a violation of the DMCA because the bot circumvented a measure that “effectively controls access to a copyrighted work” even though the circumvention had no infringing purpose. The distinction, however, is that in Lexmark the alleged infringer was producing a compatible product, whereas in the WoW case the alleged infringer only produced software that allowed you to cheat the game.

On June 15, 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief in support of Datel. EFF believes that letting users use a third party memory card does not put Microsoft at risk of copyright infringement, and their brief alleges that Microsoft is misusing the DMCA to quash competition in the Xbox 360 memory card market.

For its part, Microsoft indicated in its filings that Datel’s source code used for the chip authentication is strikingly similar to Microsoft’s, and that if the Datel devices are found to be infringing, “Datel can claim no antitrust injury with respect to them.” In a related suit, Microsoft is also suing Datel for patent infringement over an Xbox accessory controller.