Penny Wise Pound Foolish

Gulfstream vs. Camp.


I just read a court decision that reminded me of a favorite expression when commenting on someone's mistake or blunder, in French, a faux pas. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court in Savannah, GA.

Gulfstream Aerospace vs. Camp Systems International, cv01646, MDGA

The case, as reported, stated that Gulfstream Corp. (G series jets) sued a smaller company named Camp Systems. Camp specializes in providing maintenance management systems for operators of Gulfstream and other aircraft. Most technicians are aware of the company and many use the Camp Systems materials. Camp refers to the owners' Gulfstream manuals in order to prepare a maintenance tracking system. Apparently, it did not acquire any manuals directly from Gulfstream.

Gulfstream offers a similar maintenance management system to its customers and wanted to stop Camp from competing with it for this business. So, it filed a lawsuit and asked the court to order Camp, among other things, to cease its use of Gulfstream manuals in its business. It claimed Camp was illegally using the Gulfstream materials and was violating copyright law. Needless to say, Gulfstream copyrights all of its manuals and other written material that it produces for its customers.

Gulfstream wanted the court to order Camp to stop using its manuals in the preparation of maintenance management systems. It said that copyright laws prevent Camp from using its manuals. The court however found in favor of Camp Systems, allowing its continued use of the Gulfstream manuals as supplied by the owners of the aircraft.

Copyright Law 101

Disputes over using an author's written materials are controlled by U.S. copyright law. This law is arcane and tedious for most people. Nonetheless, it is important to protect the work of writers and, like trademarks and patent law, is very important for the people who create things.

Unlike patents and trademarks, copyrights protect writings against copying. Many forms of writings are included such as music and artistic works and of course things such as engineering manuals. Copyright extends further in some cases to recordings, performance rights, and photographs. However, there exists a whole body of law supporting copyright exemptions in the case of what's called "fair use"… That is, using the material other than in a way that copies the complete text of the manual or other writing. The fair use doctrine opens up many doors that sometimes make it difficult to enforce a copyright position.

After hearing all the evidence the court found that the copyright "fair use" exception applied and that Camp had a right to fair use of the materials contained in Gulfstream's manuals.

Gulfstream argument

Gulfstream also argued that safety was involved because a decision in favor of Camp would have the effect of forcing it to create a bare bones manual that would simply meet but not exceed the requirements of FAA mandates. Safety, motherhood, and apple pie … in the sky … How lawyers can reach for issues. This argument is of course somewhat dubious and the court simply acknowledged that any benefit the manuals provided to Camp is just part of the burden placed on a manufacturer of airplanes.

The court said that Gulfstream, in refusing to sell manuals to Camp, was attempting to hinder Camp's effort to compete with Gulfstream's maintenance monitor system. This was seen as an attempt to expand copyright law to include one's ability to interfere with legitimate competition. The court seems to have felt that this was an abuse of the copyright privilege, and the manuals are nothing more than reference materials for the preparation of Camp's maintenance control systems.

The court stated further … "… it is penny wise and pound foolish to hamper a competing servicer's efforts in quest of a competitive advantage."

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