Sunday, August 16, 2009

9th Circuit decision giving broad interpretation to copyright venue statute

Small law firm with purely local practice in S.D. Cal. copies the “elder law” section of a Northern California firm’s website. Northern California firm sues for copyright infringement in N.D. Cal.

Venue proper?


And if you’re not asleep yet and are interested in why, I try below to summarize the decision.

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit recently took a broad view of the copyright venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1400(a). Section 1400(a) provides that venue is proper where the defendant “resides or may be found.” So how is it that a small San Diego firm “resides or may be found” in Northern California?

Under 9th Circuit precedent, the copyright venue inquiry is the same inquiry as for personal jurisdiction. The 9th Circuit test for specific personal jurisdiction focuses on whether the defendant “purposefully directed” his activities at the forum or a resident. That, in turn, requires use of the three-part “Calder effects” test. See Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984) ((1) intentional act (2) expressly aimed at forum (3) causing known, likely harm in the forum). While not crystal clear, prior precedent in the 9th Circuit seemed to indicate that “express aiming” requires something more than an intentional act causing harm to a known resident of the forum.

The majority thought there was “something more” in this case because the S.D. Cal. law firm “individually targeted” the N.D. Cal. law firm for the purpose of competing in the same area of law, and possibly confusing potential clients about who authored the text at issue. The dissent thought that the majority’s analysis conflated the “express aiming” part of the Calder effects test with the “known likely harm” part.

The dissent pointed to prior 9th Circuit precedent that held that if the defendant isn’t targeting potential clients in the forum, then there’s no “express aiming.” And here, the defendant was targeting only San Diego clients.

The case is Brayton Purcell LLP v. Recordon & Recordon, No. 07-15383 (9th Cir. Aug. 5, 2009).

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