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No jurisdiction over Russian national’s website

Record companies failed in their attempt to sue a Russian national who owns and operates two websites the plaintiffs allege are used for music piracy and copyright infringement because the defendant did not purposefully avail himself of the benefits and protections of either Virginia or the United States.

Background

Plaintiffs are 12 record companies that produce, distribute and license the majority of commercial sound recordings in the United States. All of them are Delaware companies, with eight having their principal place of business in New York, three in California and one in Florida.

Defendant is a Russian national living and working in the Russian Federation. Defendant owns and operates two websites that are devoted to “stream ripping” which is a process by which users may “rip” a file from a streaming platform and convert it to a downloadable file format, such as an mp3.

Plaintiffs allege that the websites are a vehicle for music piracy and copyright infringement. Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit as an action for copyright infringement. Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, or, alternatively, to have the case transferred to the Central District of California.

Analysis

The parties do not dispute that defendant’s actions were not “continuous and systematic” enough to create general jurisdiction over him. Thus, the court must determine whether there is specific jurisdiction. The court will analyze whether the websites’ contacts with Virginia, and the United States as a whole, were sufficient to establish specific jurisdiction as those are the contacts from which this action arises.

The court must first consider whether the contacts defendant had with Virginia and the United States through the websites constitutes purposeful availment. The Fourth Circuit has made it clear that personal jurisdiction requires purposeful targeting of a forum with manifest intent to engage in business there. An evaluation of the contacts in this case points to the absence of personal jurisdiction due to a lack of purposeful targeting of either Virginia or the United States.

Because the websites are semi-interactive, the interactions with the users are non-commercial and there were no other acts by the defendant that would demonstrate purposeful targeting, the court finds that defendant did not purposefully avail himself of the benefits and protections of either Virginia or the United States. Due to this finding, the court does not need to engage in a reasonability analysis. The court finds that exercise of personal jurisdiction over defendant would be unconstitutional as a violation of due process under either Rule 4(k)(1) or 4(k)(2).

Due to the court’s finding that personal jurisdiction is absent under either section of Rule 4(k), the court need not address whether transfer to the Central District of California would be appropriate as that venue would also be without jurisdiction.

Motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction granted.

UMG Recordings Inc. v. Kurbanov, Case No. 18-cv-957, Jan. 22, 2019. EDVA at Alexandria (Hilton). VLW 019-3-031. 14 pp.

VLW 019-3-031