GM Copyright Suit Against Car Diagnostic Toolmaker Survives

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By Peter Leung

March 30 — A federal district court refused to throw out General Motors LLC's copyright lawsuit against a maker of diagnostic tools for cars.

Defendant Autel.us Inc. moved to have several causes of action dismissed. But the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed that motion March 29.

Autel makes diagnostic tools and software that can be used to service GM cars. GM sells similar tools and software to dealers and non-dealer service technicians. The court's ruling means that GM can continue to assert intellectual property claims in an attempt to block the Autel tools.

GM claims that Autel Vice President Gary DeLuca created seven accounts to access GM's software and website and gave those account credentials to his employees in China, who then infringed GM software copyrights while making Autel's tools.

GM sued Autel, alleging copyright infringement, circumvention of copyright protection measures in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and breach of contract.

GM also claimed that Autel illegally circumvented technological measures to access computer files stored on GM vehicles.

The court rejected Autel's claim that its alleged actions did not violate the DMCA because they fell under exceptions to the law. Autel argued that even if GM's pled facts were true, its actions fell within DMCA exceptions stating that reverse engineering or circumvention to enable interoperability with another computer program is not illegal.

GM, however, claimed that Autel never had lawful access to the copyrighted software, so it couldn't take advantage of the reverse engineering exception, the court said.

It also ruled that GM's complaint asserted that Autel circumvented technical controls to make illegal copies, not to ensure interoperability with its own software. If proven true, these facts would mean that Autel would not fall within the exception.

The court also found that DeLuca may be personally liable for helping employees unlawfully access GM's intellectual property.

Previous Success

This is not the first time a car manufacturer has sued Autel for copyright infringement and DMCA violations. Ford Motor Co. is also suing Autel over its diagnostic tools (Ford Motor Co. v. Autel US Inc., E.D. Mich, Case No. No. 4:14-cv-13760, complaint filed 9/29/14).

However in October, the court dismissed Ford's claim that Autel violated the DMCA by circumventing technological measures controlling access to data in Ford's software . Ford failed to plead a DMCA violation because it did not claim a copyright interest in the data protected by the technological measures, the court said.

That case is ongoing. Judge Terrence G. Berg is the judge on both the Ford and GM cases.

Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn LLP and Crowell & Moring LLP represented GM. Kerr, Russell & Weber PLC and Drinker Biddle & Realth LLP represented Autel and DeLuca.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Leung in Washington at pleung@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek in Washington at mwilczek@bna.com

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Text is available at: http://src.bna.com/dIX.