Last July, the US Navy found itself in the middle of a copyright infringement lawsuit stemming from the illegal copying of some virtual reality software. The software, written and distributed by German company Bitmanagement Software, provided a hyper-realistic training experience, and was installed on more than half a million Navy computers.
The case is fairly twisted. First, the Navy purchased 38 licenses to install and test the software. At one point, they came back to the developers and needed the blocking restrictions lifted, claiming that it was interfering with their classified system. Bitmanagement agreed and “unlocked” the software so a more thorough test could be conducted.
From there, the software was install on more than 558,000 computers and has been in use on each of them. The company is obviously put out by the infringement, and has filed suit to recover the lost revenue. But for its part, the Navy claims they purchased an unlimited license, or at least that they were told they’d purchased one. Therefore, they reject the claim that they illegally copied and installed the software.
So here’s where things get murky: first of all, why would the Navy purchase 38 licenses if they thought the one they purchased was for unlimited use? Moreover, as an Ars Tecnica commenter has stated on this issue, as of November 2016 the Navy doesn’t even have half a million active duty personnel members. With just over 300,000 active duty soldiers and slightly more than 200,000 civilian employees, that still doesn’t account for 558,000 computers. Adding in the additional 100,000+ reserve members does increase the number of personnel over the number of installations they performed.
Also, the Navy fully admits that it disabled the usage report feature that would have informed Bitmanagement as to how many users and computers were involved with their software, which they did sometime in December of 2014. Other than citing potential classified training reasons for blocking the reporting, there’s no understandable excuse for disabling the usage report if you truly believe you have an unlimited use license.
However, muddying the waters a little bit is the response brief filed on behalf of the Navy in which they claim that Bitmanagement knew about all of the installations and had given approval. The response to the original filing can be found here.
Unfortunately, the lawsuit isn’t near its end, leaving Bitmanagement to go after a defendant that has an endless stream of attorneys on the payroll–around 740 civilian attorneys and more than 300 support staff, not including the active duty lawyers who are members of the Office of General Counsel, making the Navy’s law firm the second largest government law firm in the world.