District Court Finds Copying From a Website Alone Is Insufficient to Confer Personal Jurisdiction over Defendant
citation=2011%20BL%20263246&summary=yes#jcite”>Lang v. Morris, No. 11-CV-01366, 2011 BL 263246 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 12, 2011)
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California concluded that it did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant in a copyright infringement case brought by several origami artists. The court explained that copying from the website alone was not enough to establish jurisdiction—defendant must have targeted, or competed with the plaintiffs in California. Accordingly, the court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the claims based on lack of personal jurisdiction.
The Plaintiffs’ Claims
The artists, who own copyrights in various crease patterns for creating three-dimensional origami designs, brought suit for copyright infringement against Morris, alleging that she copied the crease patterns and used them in a series of paintings related to origami. Plaintiff Robert Lang operated and controlled a website, which included images of his crease patterns, some of which were allegedly infringed. One of Lange’s crease patterns, which appears as an exhibit to plaintiffs’ amended complaint (Fig. A1), and Morris’s allegedly infringing painting (Fig. A2), are shown below:
Lang’s website stated that it was controlled from California and that all matters pertaining to the website, and its related access or use, were governed by the laws and courts of the state of California. Lang was also featured in an article in The New Yorker magazine, which Morris admittedly read, and the article stated that Lang was a California resident. The artists alleged that Morris accessed the website and copied some of the allegedly infringed works from the website, and that therefore the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California had specific personal jurisdiction over Morris. Morris brought a motion to dismiss the claims for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Requirements for Specific Personal Jurisdiction in the Ninth Circuit
The Ninth Circuit imposes a three-prong test to determine specific jurisdiction over a defendant under the California long-arm statute. First, the defendant “must purposefully direct activities or consummate some transaction with the forum or resident thereof, or perform some act which he purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum, thereby invoking the benefits and protection of its laws.” Lang at 4. Next, the claim must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s activities in the forum. Lastly, “the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with fair play and substantial justice.” Id.
Morris argued that she never purposefully directed her activities at California, transacted any business in the forum, or authorized any transactions in the forum. Morris never sold any of the allegedly infringing works to anyone in California, has never displayed her work in California, nor had an agent or representative in California. The plaintiffs countered that Morris was aware that Lang was a California resident when she reviewed his website and allegedly copied the crease patterns.
The Ninth Circuit distinguishes between purposeful availment and purposeful direction. The concept of purposeful availment applies to suits based in contract law, while purposeful direction is more suitable to copyright infringement claims. To have purposefully directed her acts at the forum, Morris must have “(1) committed an intentional act which was (2) expressly aimed at the forum state, and (3) caused harm, the brunt of which is suffered and which the defendant knows is likely to be suffered in the forum state.” Lang at 5.
Morris’s intentional act was the creation of the allegedly infringing paintings. To establish that Morris’s actions were expressly aimed at the forum, the court explained that something more than mere foreseeability was required. In a similar Ninth Circuit case, the defendant used the plaintiff’s intellectual property on the defendant’s website to compete with the plaintiff in the forum. See Brayton Purcell LLP v. Recordon & Recordon, 606 F.3d 1124 (9th Cir. 2010). The court explained that the emphasis should be on the place of the competition between the parties and the defendant’s target locale, not the location of the defendant’s residence. When purposeful direction is partially based on website activity, the Ninth Circuit evaluates several factors, “‘including the interactivity of the defendant’s website, the geographic scope of the defendant’s commercial ambitions, and whether the defendant ‘individually targeted’ a plaintiff known to be a forum resident.’” Id at 8 (quoting Marvix Photo, Inc. v. Brand Technologies, Inc., 647 F.3d 1218, 1229 (9th Cir. 2011)). Mere knowledge of the plaintiff’s residency is not enough to establish purposeful direction; the defendant must have targeted the plaintiff in the forum or competed with the plaintiff in the forum.
The court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to establish that Morris purposely targeted her actions to compete with Lang in California. Plaintiffs contended that one of Morris’s allegedly infringing works was displayed at a gallery in Los Angeles, but had no evidence that Morris had authorized or was associated with the alleged after-market display of the work. The court was also unpersuaded by the plaintiffs’ position that Morris targeted the forum by allowing her works to be available for viewing on third party websites, because Morris did not own or operate any of the websites where the works could be viewed. In addition, these third-party websites were merely passive, not interactive sites. Accordingly, the court granted Morris’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, determining that the plaintiffs failed to establish that she targeted or competed within the forum.
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