This is a guest post by Internet Law Attorney Richard Newman about a recent Federal Court Ruling that held that the laws of one state – in this case New York – DO apply to Web sites accessible from anywhere.
The case is Mrs. United States National Pageant Inc. v. Miss United States of America Organization LLC. The holding in this trademark litigation is a key one.
Specifically, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York has held that personal jurisdiction in New York over a non-resident website based on a national marketing campaign was proper where the campaign conduct specifically pursued a response from all fifty states.
Stated another way, the court held that “it would not be sensible, or equitable, to interpret the references in case law to ‘targeting’ a jurisdiction as meaning that the defendants must have singled out New York as a particular focus of their commercial activity.”
[Note from Gail @GrowMap: In other words, just because the site
was not SPECIFICALLY for New York residents only that did NOT
mean they were not intentionally targeting those residents.]
The plaintiff here registered the mark “Miss United States,” and uses it, along with variations thereof such as “Mrs. United States” to operate beauty pageants around the country. The plaintiff has run the Mrs. United States pageant for the past 25 years. When one of the individual defendants approached the plaintiff seeking to buy some of its trademarks, the plaintiff refused to sell.
Subsequently, the defendants formed a beauty pageant company utilizing names such as “Miss United States of America” and in conjunction therewith promoted pageants via the website “missunitedstatesofamerica.com.”
Trademark Infringement Suit
Mrs. United States National Pageant Inc. filed suit against the defendants in the Western District of New York for trademark infringement and moved for injunctive relief to preclude the use of the allegedly infringing marks. The defendants took the position that the court lacks personal jurisdiction because they do not reside in New York and that they did not intentionally target the “missunitedstatesofamerica.com” website at New York residents.
The court disagreed, finding that the defendants had sufficient
minimum contacts with New York and that the exercise of personal
jurisdiction over the non-resident defendants was reasonable because
the tortious conduct caused an injury within the state.
In reaching its decision, the court considered the jurisdictional impact of Internet based marketing such as that done on the “missunitedstatesofamerica.com” website.
Law Considers Passive Versus Interactive Web Sites
Historically, courts have used a sliding-scale approach when analyzing related issues. On one end of the spectrum are purely passive websites, or information websites. Conversely, on the other end of the spectrum are those websites that interact with forum residents by transmitting files and documents.
The court examined the level of interactivity and commercial
nature of the exchange of information on the website.
It determined that the case was somewhere in the middle because the defendants’ website offers links that enable visitors to submit applications to become contestants and to purchase related products.
Court Rules All 50 States Intentionally Targeted
Specifically, the court stated that “[t]he evidence suggests that defendants sought to solicit contestants from New York (as well as from the other forty-nine states), and that through their website, they provided a means, through downloadable forms, for New York residents to become contestants in defendants’ pageant. Such activity indicates that defendants knowingly and purposefully reached out to New York residents in furtherance of the pageant business.”
The court rejected as immaterial defendants’ argument
that they did not target New York, specifically.
“This is not like a website that could be accessed from any state, where the defendant has no particular interest in which states interest comes from,” the court said. “The defendants targeted the entire nation because they are seeking to crown a national winner from among contestants from every state.”
The contestant application page listed all fifty states. “If defendants choose to reach out in that way to each state, they should not be heard to complain if they are dragged into court in one of those states as a result of that activity.”
Richard Newman is an Internet Lawyer at Hinch Newman LLP who specializes in Internet marketing and advertising law, complex commercial litigation, and regulatory compliance matters.
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
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