Judge Grants Apple's Summary Judgement, Denies Psystar [Updated]

Friday the 13th was an unlucky day for Psystar and its Mac clone business because Judge Alsup denied its motion for summary judgement and granted Apple's. The two companies have been fighting in court over whether or not the PC maker can build and sell Mac clones without Apple's permission.

Apple filed a lawsuit against Psystar in Northern California several months ago claiming the small PC maker was violating the Mac OS X end user license agreement, and that it was violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act with the steps it used to install the Mac operating system on PCs. Psystar claimed that it should be allowed to build and sell PCs with Mac OS X pre-installed and that Apple is overstepping its bounds by blocking companies from selling Mac clones.

In its motion for Summary Judgement, Apple argued that the licensing agreement for Mac OS X states that the end user owns the disc the software ships on, but only licenses the use of the operating system. Since Mac OS X is licensed instead of owned, users are bound by Apple's terms that prohibit installing and running the software on non-Apple hardware.

In its Summary Judgement filing, Psystar claimed that because users own the media Mac OS X ships on, they own the operating system as well. Owning the OS gives them the right to use it as they see fit, and in this case that includes installing it on Mac clones.

Psystar also filed its own suit in Florida claiming that Leopard and Snow Leopard are distinctly different products, and that the California case only addresses Mac OS X 10.5, not the newer Mac OS X 10.6.

Psystar, however, wasn't able to present a compelling enough argument, leading Judge William Alsup to deny its motion only a day after the the summary judgement hearing in U.S. District Court in Northern California.

"Judge Alsup found that Psystar's defenses were unavailing, because they had no basis in either law or fact or both," The Mac Observer's legal contact said.

The day went much better for Apple since Judge Alsup granted its motion. Based on Judge Alsup's ruling, Psystar infringed on Apple's copyrights when it sold PCs with Mac OS X installed, and it violated the DMCA by circumventing Apple's code that binds Mac OS X to Apple hardware.

"Winning of the copyright infringement would have been sufficient to win the day for Apple, but Judge Alsup also found that Psystar illegally circumvented the technical measures that Apple uses to protect OS X and trafficked in illegal circumvention technology," commented TMO's legal contact.

"According to Apple, Psystar has violated its exclusive right to copy Mac OS X. Psystar admits that it has made copies of Mac OS X and installed those copies on non-Apple computers," Judge Alsup said in his ruling. "In addition, when Psystar turns on its computers running Mac OS X, another copy of the software is made to the random access memory. Psystar has thus infringed Apple's reproduction right."

Judge Alsup added "Psystar argues that Apple misused its copyrights by continuing to prosecute allegedly 'invalid' copyright infringement and DMCA claims against Psystar. This argument is unavailing. This order finds that Apple's claims are valid and has granted summary judgment in favor of Apple on those claims."

In other words, the court ruled that Apple didn't misuse its Mac OS X copyrights and that Psystar had no grounds for invalidating those copyrights.

Despite Judge Alsup's strong ruling, this case isn't over yet. Apple's relief in the case hasn't been determined yet, and an injunction preventing Psystar from selling Mac clones hasn't been issued yet. Judge Alsup hasn't indicated whether or not Leopard and Snow Leopard would be included in any injunction, either.

Should the California court grant an injunction blocking Psystar from selling Mac clones that's broad enough to include all versions of Mac OS X, and also award Apple statutory damages, the PC maker could be ordered to surrender all of the profits it made from selling computers with Leopard and Snow Leopard pre-installed.

Judge Alsup's ruling also set the stage for the pending trial scheduled for January 2010. "Because neither party raised or fully addressed the contract, trademark, trade dress, and unfair competition issues, Judge Alsup reserved those issues for trial," TMO's legal contact said.

Now Psystar will have to try to convince the court that its parallel case in Florida should be allowed to move forward independently of Judge Alsup's summary judgement ruling -- a job that might be difficult for Psystar to manage.

"I think that the logic of Judge Alsup's opinion extends to cover all of Psystar's conduct in making Mac clones with either Leopard or Snow Leopard," TMO's legal contact said. "But we shall see."

A new hearing has been set for December 14, and Apple has until November 23 to file its formal briefing for relief.

[This article has been updated with additional information about Judge Alsup's ruling.]