Diary of a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit – 2 (Jurisdiction and Venue)

After you decide to file your copyright infringement lawsuit, the next decision is where to file it.

First, according to 28 U.S.C. 1338(a), only federal courts have “subject matter jurisdiction” over (the right to hear) copyright infringement claims.  [If your claim is for a client’s failure to pay your license fee, then your breach of contract lawsuit should be filed in state court.]  You file your lawsuit with the trial court, called a “district court.” Each state has at least one district court, and some states have more than one (such as California and Texas, each of which have four districts).  This map shows how the judicial districts are divided. [Note that some state courts also are called “district courts.”  Federal district courts will always referred to as “United States District Court,” but state courts will include the title, “State of ____.”]

Second, you must file your lawsuit with an appropriate district court, which is known as “venue.”  Venue is proper for copyright infringement cases pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1400(a) “in the district in which the defendant or his agent resides or may be found.” For reasons that are beyond this discussion, it’s not always easy to determine where the defendant “may be found.” If, however, the defendant is a person and lives in the district, or if the defendant is a business and is registered to do business in the district, then you may file your suit there.  For some companies, especially those that do business nationwide, any district may be proper. Note that courts sometimes decide that a different venue is more appropriate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1404.

Unfortunately, the defendant may reside across the country from where you live, making it more expensive and difficult to prosecute your claim. Accordingly, you may want the court in your district to exercise jurisdiction over the non-resident defendant.  The defendant may object, because litigating the case in your district is more difficult for the defendant. Such was the situation in Penguin Group (USA) Inc. v. American Buddha (N.Y. Ct. Appeals March 24, 2010).  Ray Dowd over at the Copyright Litigation Blog has the details. In that case, the New York court decided that it could exercise jurisdiction over a Washington state business. But each case is different. Check with your attorney to see where you need to file your copyright infringement lawsuit.

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