Apple Inc. failed to fully revive a long-running copyright lawsuit against cybersecurity firm Corellium Inc. over its software that simulates the iPhone’s iOS operating systems, letting security researchers identify flaws in the software.
The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on Monday ruled that Corellium’s CORSEC simulator is protected by copyright law’s fair use doctrine, which allows the duplication of copyrighted work under certain circumstances.
CORSEC “furthers scientific progress by allowing security research into important operating systems,” a three-judge panel for the appeals court said, adding that iOS “is functional operating software that falls outside copyright’s core.”
An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the ruling.
Apple argued that Corellium’s software was “wholesale copying and reproduction” of iOS and served as a market substitute for its own security research products.
Corellium countered that its copying of Apple’s computer code and app icons was only for the purposes of security research and was sufficiently “transformative” under the fair use standard.
The company said CORSEC is primarily used by researchers, federal agencies, and defense contractors, and the program includes new elements and features not found in the normal iOS operating system.
Apple first sued Corellium in 2019, but the security firm was granted summary judgment in a Florida federal court a year later.
The Eleventh Circuit said in its nonprecedential opinion Monday that the lower court must reconsider Apple’s claims of contributory copyright infringement and infringement of the iOS icons and wallpaper.
The case has been closely watched by security researchers and digital rights groups who filed numerous friend-of-the court briefs and applauded the ruling.
“The 11th Circuit rightly agreed that ‘largely functional’ software such as iOS can be used to create new and valuable tools without running afoul of copyright law,” Meredith Rose, senior policy counsel at the think tank Public Knowledge, which supported Corellium, said in an emailed statement.
The panel largely sided with Corellium on whether its copying of iOS code was transformative, a question posed by the second factor under the four-factor fair use doctrine.
“Corellium invented a creative and innovative tool that furthered the very creative progress that copyright seeks to achieve,” the panel said. “Corellium created a new product with new features.”
The appeals court said the case looks a lot like a 2015 ruling from the Second Circuit in Authors Guild v. Google Inc. upholding the legality of the Google Book Project, which scanned millions of books into a searchable online database.
In that case, Google’s database was deemed transformative because it “augmented public knowledge” by providing information about millions of books, such as the frequency of usage of certain words across time.
CORSEC allows researchers to monitor iOS processes in real time and run experiments. “There’s no dispute that these features assist researchers and enable them to do their work in new ways,” the court said.
The US Supreme Court is currently considering a case that will further clarify transformative use in Andy Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith.
The panel said the question of whether CORSEC served as a market substitute for Apple’s own security research products was a “somewhat closer question.” Still, Apple doesn’t have a monopoly “over transformative research tools that supply information about its operating system,” the court said.
Circuit Judges Elizabeth Branch and Andrew Luck, and District Judge Louis Sands sat on the panel.
Latham & Watkins LLP and Lash & Goldberg LLP represent Apple. Goldstein & Russell PC, Hecht Partners LLP, Cole Scott & Kissane PA, and Reid Collins & Tsai LLP represent Corellium.
The case is Apple Inc. v. Corellium Inc., 11th Cir., No. 21-12835, 5/8/23.
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