Archive: August 8, 2007

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Spoliation Sanctions Not Warranted for Failure to Preserve Temporary Cache Files

Spoliation Sanctions Not Warranted for Failure to Preserve Temporary Cache Files

Healthcare Advocates, Inc. v. Harding, Earley, Follmer & Frailey, 2007 WL 2085358 (E.D. Pa. July 20, 2007)

Healthcare Advocates was the plaintiff in an earlier lawsuit that asserted claims for trademark infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets against a competitor.  The Harding firm represented the defendants in that lawsuit, which was dismissed on summary judgment.  This civil action arose out of events that occurred in the pre-discovery phase of the underlying litigation.

After receiving the complaint, the Harding firm investigated the facts behind the allegations.  Employees of the Harding firm accessed a website operated by the Internet Archive (www.archive.org), and viewed archived screenshots of Healthcare Advocates’ website via a tool contained on Internet Archive’s website called the Wayback Machine.  The Wayback Machine allowed the Harding firm to see what Healthcare Advocates’ public website looked like prior to the date the complaint was filed in the underlying litigation.  Viewing the content that Healthcare Advocates had included on its public website in the past was very useful to the Harding firm in assessing the merits of the claims brought against their clients.  The Harding firm printed copies of each archived screenshot of Healthcare Advocates’ public website that they viewed via the Wayback Machine, and used the images used during the course of the underlying litigation.  However, the Harding firm did not actively save any of the screenshots they viewed onto their computer hard drives.

Healthcare Advocates later sued the Harding firm, claiming among other things that the firm had infringed on its copyright rights by viewing and printing copies of the archived images of the Healthcare Advocates’ web pages, by unknowingly saving copies of these web pages in temporary files known as caches, and by distributing the images to their co-counsel in the underlying litigation.  It further alleged that the Harding firm was guilty of “hacking.”

In this opinion, the court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the Harding firm’s infringing use was excusable under the fair use doctrine.  The court further rejected Healthcare Advocates’ request for spoliation sanctions based on defendant’s failure to preserve the temporary cache files.

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