August 6, 2009

No Personal Jurisdiction Over Music Website in Copyright Action

The Royalty Network Inc. v. LLC, No. 08 Civ. 8558 (SHS) (S.D.N.Y. July 29, 2009).

Defendant's FRCP 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction granted; plaintiff's request for jurisdictional discovery denied.

Defendants operate a website which invites visitors to play Indian music, to create "playlists" of Indian songs, and to "listen to and download Bollywood Movie ringtones." Plaintiff, the administrator of music owned by non-party music recording company based in India, brought action alleging that defendants' website provides visitors with unauthorized access to music produced by the record company, thereby violating its copyrights and denying Plaintiff royalties to which it is entitled as administrator.

Plaintiff contended that the Court has specific jurisdiction over defendants pursuant to New York's "long arm" statute, CPLR 302(a)(1) and (a)(3)(ii). The Court disagreed.

After discussing the standard on a 12(b)(2) motion, the Court examined whether Defendants' website conferred personal jurisdiction over defendants, who operated the website from Virginia and had no office, real estate or any employee in New York.

Under the "transacts business in" in New York claim for specific jurisdiction, the Court analyzed the "Spectrum of Interactivity" of the Website (passive, interactive, or somewhere in the middle), and found that the website "falls somewhere in the 'middle ground' and thus the jurisdiction inquiry requires closer evaluation of tis contact with New York residents." Plaintiff contended that the following contacts were sufficient: the website was available to NY visitors who could stream and download material from it; the site sells advertisments to NY based companies; and defendants registered the domain name thorugh a NY company.

Plaintiff, however, provided no evidence that any NY resident actually engaged in any transaction on the website (e.g., registered or downloaded material), or that defendants did anything to indicate their knowing and purposeful transaction with NY visitors. Nor was there anything to indicate that defendants sold to, or interacted with the NY office of any of its advertisers (who have national audiences) or that defendants knew that any of those advertisers were headquartered in NY. There was insufficient evidence to support the inference of a purposeful attempt to take advantage of the NY market. Lastly, even if Defendants registered their domain name through a NY company, there was no nexus between that transaction and those at issue (i.e., the connection was merely coincidental).

Under the "tortious conduct out of state causing injury in state" claim, plaintiff fared no better. Although plaintiff's copyright infringmenet claim validly alleged tortious activity and injury within NY, "the jurisdiction inquiry breaks down" becuase plaintiff proffered insufficient evidence to support a finding that it was reasonably foreseeable to defendants that their conduct would cause such injury in NY. (The "reasonable foreseeability" requirement is construed under NY law consistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent concerning due process.) Plaintiff pointed to neither tangible manifestations of defendants' intent to target NY, nor concrete facts known to defendants that would lead them to foresee being sued in NY. There was no purposeful NY affiliation or discernable effort to target NY. Plaintiff's "sheer speculation" was insufficient.

Lastly, Plaintiff was unable to make a threshold showing that there was some basis for the assertion of jurisdiction to grant jurisdictional discovery. Moreover, plaintiff did not put forward any compelling reasons why discovery should be allowed, nor did it identify any particular facts it would seek to adduce through such discovery or suggest how discovery could aid the Court's jurisdictional inquiry.
Decision Dishant