Federal Court Holds Copyright Registration Is Not A Basis For Personal Jurisdiction In The District Of Columbia


In my Blog post dated March 8, 2015, I noted that the question of whether an allegedly fraudulent petition to the Copyright Office to register a copyright can be a basis for personal jurisdiction in the District of Columbia was currently before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. I also noted that the parties, including defendant Erling Vignisson represented by Farkas+Toikka , were awaiting a ruling on defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

On April 10, 2015, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg issued a Memorandum Opinion and an Order in App. Dynamic ehf v. Vignisson, Case No. 1:14-cv-01504-JEB (D.D.C.) ruling that the government contacts doctrine barred personal jurisdiction over defendant Vignisson based on his allegedly fraudulent application for copyright registration filed with the Copyright Office. In so doing, he interpreted the fraud exception announced by the D.C. Court of Appeals in Companhia Brasileira De Calcio v. Applied Indus. Materials Corp., 35 A.3d 1127, 1134 (D.C. 2012) as limited to petitions to a federal government agency that fraudulently induce “unwarranted government action against the plaintiff,” (emphasis supplied by the federal court). The Court, finding that the Copyright Office had done nothing more than register a copyright, held that plaintiff’s allegation of fraud does not fall within the Companhia fraud exception, and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint without prejudice.

In dismissing plaintiff’s complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, the Court agreed with defendant Vignisson that the D.C. Court of Appeals Companhia fraud exception was narrowly drawn and limited to the question certified to it by the federal court of appeals, namely:

"Under District of Columbia law, does a petition sent to a federal government agency in the District provide a basis for establishing personal jurisdiction over the petitioner when the plaintiff has alleged that the petition fraudulently induced unwarranted government action against the plaintiff?"

As it was clear that the Copyright Office in the ex parte registration proceeding took no action against plaintiff App Dynamic ehf, a non-party to the registration proceeding, the Court decided that the fraud exception did not apply. The Court also relied on two District Court decisions handed down after the D.C. Court of Appeals Companhia decision: Morgan v. Richmond Sch. of Health and Tech., 857 F. Supp. 2d 104, 109 (D.D.C. 2012) (holding fraud exception to government contracts doctrine inapplicable where no allegations [were made] that government agency committed any actions against plaintiff); Shaheen v. Smith, 994 F. Supp. 2d 77, 86 (D.D.C. 2013) (holding narrow fraud exception inapplicable because government agency – the SEC – did not take any action against plaintiff as a result of defendant’s actions).

The Court also refused plaintiff’s request for jurisdictional discovery on the basis that plaintiff did not meet its burden to show how discovery would help establish personal jurisdiction. The Court pointed out that plaintiff offered no specifics facts that could establish jurisdiction, and the Court found its request to be nothing more than a “speculative fishing expedition.” By contrast, defendant presented to the Court two declarations explaining that all of his travels to the United States were not related to the subject matter of this suit and did not involve any travel to the District of Columbia.

The Court also pointed out that even if plaintiff could not obtain jurisdiction over defendant Vignisson in any U.S. court, plaintiff has alternative recourse to (i) the U.S. Copyright Office, which in the Court’s view has exclusive jurisdiction in the United States over cancelling a copyright registration, and (ii) an Icelandic court which the Court stated would “presumably have the authority to determine the validity of [plaintiff’s] contract and copyright claims.

© 2015 Richard S. Toikka, All Rights Reserved.