A federal appeals court has ruled that Apple’s digital backup service for printers and other electronic devices is not a “substantially similar” copy of the software used by copyright holders to lock up copyrighted works, but the court is weighing whether the company should be held liable for copying.
In a ruling published Thursday, the three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said that while it had not decided whether Apple infringed on a law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the company had “the burden of demonstrating that its digital backup software is substantially similar” to the software that locks up copyrighted material.
The case involves two separate software programs that allow users to lock down files on iPhones and iPads.
The software, called iCloud, allows users to view files stored on the device or on servers at Apple’s servers.
The software also allows users “to manage the digital content of their iCloud account and access content on Apple’s iTunes, Apple Music, and Apple Pay digital music and video services.”
The case was brought by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), a union representing hundreds of thousands of letter carriers, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which sued Apple for allegedly violating a 1986 copyright law called 18 U.S.C. §512(b).
The NALC and EFF sued Apple in April 2016.
A spokesperson for Apple told Ars that the company was reviewing the decision and would have no further comment.
The NALP said in a statement that the ruling “vindicates the rights of thousands who have used iCloud to protect their personal data from copyright infringement, without any infringement of copyright or patent rights.”
“This ruling should send a strong message that the US Constitution is still a place of openness, creativity, and personal expression,” NALA President Richard Trumka said in the statement.
“It also demonstrates that the DMCA remains a strong tool to ensure that we are free from frivolous lawsuits and that consumers have the confidence in their rights.”
The ruling was handed down just weeks after a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that the software should be considered a derivative work of the works that are locked up on Apple products.
The ruling from the Ninth District of California was issued after the Ninth U.T.S., a nonprofit that defends digital rights, filed a complaint with the appeals court asking that the case be dismissed.
That lawsuit accused Apple of copying the NALL’s copyright claims, but it didn’t directly address whether the software infringed upon a copyright law.
Apple’s lawyers argued that the NALTs claims were not based on the law but instead were “the result of Apple’s extensive use of the same technology, including the same software, in the past,” according to a copy of their motion filed in federal court.
“The court is finding that the claims of the NALS are meritless and therefore moot,” Apple said in its motion.
“Apple has already shown that it is likely to prevail on its motion to dismiss.
The NALS’ claims, if sustained, would be subject to a finding of patent infringement, subject to the costs and expenses associated with such an action.”