The Eastern District of Missouri recently dismissed copyright infringement claims against pop-star Katy Perry, rapper Juicy J, and other individuals for lack of personal jurisdiction, in Marcus Gray p/k/a Flame v. Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson p/k/a Katy Perry. The lawsuit alleged that Perry’s song “Dark Horse” infringed the plaintiffs’ copyright in their Christian Gospel hip hop song “Joyful Noise,” which they released five years before Perry’s chart-topping hit.The court applied the Eighth Circuit’s Land-O-Nod test to determine whether the defendants’ contacts with Missouri were sufficient for specific personal jurisdiction, by weighing: (1) the nature and quality of the contacts with the state, (2) the quantity of such contacts, (3) the relation of plaintiffs’ cause of action to the contacts, (4) the interest of the state in providing a forum for its residents, and (5) the convenience of the parties. The court also explained that it was required to apply the Supreme Court’s Calder “effects test” – in addition to Land-O-Nod balancing – pursuant to which the plaintiffs had to show that that the defendant’s acts “(1) were intentional, (2) were uniquely or expressly aimed at Missouri, and (3) caused harm, the brunt of which was suffered—and which [the defendants] knew was likely to be suffered—in Missouri.”
In dismissing the claims, the court held that Perry’s contacts with Missouri were not of the nature, quality, and quantity needed to establish personal jurisdiction. The court explained:
Perry has submitted her affidavit in which she avers that she has no control over the commercial distribution of Dark Horse; her only contacts with Missouri are four concert performances during 2011 and 2014, which were part of international tours. Moreover, the concerts were arranged through, and were services rendered by Perry to her California touring company, Kitty Purry, Inc. Defendant Perry further avers that she has no involvement in the commercial distribution of the song anywhere, including Missouri. Thus, the nature and quantity of Perry’s contacts with Missouri are limited to the concert appearances. These contacts fall within the random and fortuitous sphere of the analysis. Plaintiffs have presented no evidence that Perry purposefully directed any of her actions toward the citizens of Missouri such that she would be expected to be haled into a court located within the State.
The court further pointed out that the disputed song was distributed “nation-wide with nothing to establish a direct relationship with Missouri.” As a result, Perry and the other individual defendants could not have reasonably anticipated being forced to defend suit in Missouri.
The Eastern District of Missouri also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that, because “Dark Horse” was offered for download and listening on a website accessible in Missouri, there was personal jurisdiction over Perry and the other individual defendants. The court noted that the website was owned and operated by a third party, and there was no evidence in the record that the defendants engaged in any transaction or exchange of information with a Missouri resident via the website.
In addition, the court discounted the fact that the impact of the alleged copyright infringement was felt in Missouri where two of the plaintiff hip hop musicians lived. The court found that this could not overcome the fact that Perry had too few contacts with Missouri and that the other individual defendants had none. The court explained that “Missouri’s interest in providing its residents with a forum cannot make up for the absence of minimum contacts.”
Finally, although defendant Capitol Records, LLC did not dispute personal jurisdiction, the court granted Capitol Records’ motion to transfer to the Central District of California, where “Dark Horse” was created and distributed. In granting the motion, the court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that, because Capitol Records had copyright actions in Missouri in the past, it should not be allowed to now argue that Missouri is an inconvenient location for this new action to be tried. The court also considered that, because the plaintiffs likely will re-file their claims against Perry and the other individual defendants in a forum with personal jurisdiction, like California where Perry resides, transfer made judicial sense so that a court could preside over all claims and avoid the possibility of duplicative actions.
The Eastern District of Missouri’s decision, therefore, serves as a reminder to plaintiffs who wish to bring copyright infringement claims against “California Gurls” like Perry of the need to establish more than random, fortuitous, or attenuated contacts between the defendants and the forum state or otherwise face dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction. Injury in the forum is insufficient, as is nationwide marketing not directed at a specific state, to meet Due Process concerns.