In re America Online, Inc. Version 5.0 Software Litigation

The Cyber Blog IndiaCase Summary

Can a software preventing internet access from other service providers be considered to exceed authorised access?

In re America Online, Inc. Version 5.0 Software Litigation
168 F.Supp.2d 1359
In the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
Case Number 00-1314
Before District Judge Gold
Decided on April 19, 2001

Relevancy of the Case: Can a software preventing internet access from other service providers be considered to exceed authorised access?

Statutes and Provisions Involved

  • The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030
  • The Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2

Relevant Facts of the Case

  • The plaintiffs have brought a class action against the defendant. The defendant has filed this motion of dismissal on the plaintiffs’ claims.
  • American Online (AOL) is an internet service provider that provides internet service through a dial-up internet account. To increase its business, AOL distributed free disks containing AOL 5.0 version software. Computer manufacturers then sold the computers with this software preinstalled. It needed a small activation process for the users to utilise AOL services and required users to agree to the terms and conditions.
  • The consumer class alleges that the installation of this software damages the computers by cutting off non-AOL access, disrupting consumers’ local area network. As a result, it causes instability in the whole system, leading to the computer crashing. Despite complaints, AOL has neither remedied nor fixed its software.
  • Galaxy, another internet service provider, seeks remedy for unfair competition. It submits that it cannot provide internet services to its subscribers since AOL 5.0 cuts off non-AOL internet access.

Prominent Arguments by the Counsels

  • The defendant’s counsel argued that the CFAA provisions do not apply to AOL. AOL’s computer access was not unauthorised. Moreover, the plaintiffs did not show that there was a minimum damage of $5,000. Concerning Galaxy’s claim, the counsel argued that no damage was caused to Galaxy’s computers. Their claim is indirect, and moreover, it does not meet the statutory amount required under CFAA.
  • Further, the defendant’s counsel submitted that consumers agreed to the terms and conditions when they installed the software. The consumer has the remedy of replacing the defective software.

Opinion of the Bench

  • The argument of a consumer signing the Terms of Services is an affirmative defence.
  • The plaintiffs’ claim under Section 1030(a)(5)(A) cannot succeed as this provision does not cover exceeding authorised access.
  • Galaxy could not render its services to its consumers due to AOL’s software. A decrease in the number of customers is of value to account for damages under CFAA to fulfil the minimum statutory requirement under CFAA.

Final Decision

  • The court dismissed consumers’ claims under Section 1030(8)(e) and Section 1030(a)(5)(A) while allowing them to amend their claims concerning the Terms of Service.
  • As for Galaxy’s claim, the court granted it in part and denied it in part.

Anjini Pandey, an undergraduate student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, prepared this case summary during her internship with The Cyber Blog India in May/June 2022.