Law Firm’s Plagiarized Website Subject to Expanded Jurisdiction

A 50-person law firm with a national practice in asbestos litigation found that the text of its Elder Law website was copied verbatim as the basis for a new site for a firm in another part of the state.  The plaintiff firm, Brayton Purcell, filed suit claiming copyright infringement, false advertising, unfair competition and misappropriation.

The two-person defendant firm, San Diego-based Recordon & Recordon, argued that it hired a company to construct its website, and that it was unaware that the content was stolen from a competitor without its knowledge.

They further argued that the case had been filed in the wrong jurisdiction, as the firm doesn’t maintain offices or staff within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit Court. Without a business nexus in Southern California, they claimed, the case should have been originally filed in Northern California.

The court ruled that since very few competitors exist in Elder Law, the copied site had been “expressly aimed” to compete with the plaintiff firm.

As glad as I am to see plagiarizing law firms held accountable, I must admit that dissenting Judge Stephen Reinhardt has a valid point:

“… express aiming” in these circumstances leaves every website operator vulnerable to the possibility “he will be hailed into far-away courts based upon allegations of intellectual property infringement, if he happens to know where the alleged owner of the property rights resides,” Reinhardt noted “[d]ue process and basic principles of fairness prohibit such an expansive exercise of personal jurisdiction.”

What if the facts were the same, but the companies were within different national boundaries? Would mere knowledge of a competitor create a sufficient nexus for the website owner to be tried in a foreign court?

Though the original verdict may have been from the wrong court, it was the right decision. Recordon & Recordon was found “one-third responsible for the copyright violation” and ordered to pay $24,000 in statutory damages and nearly $37,000 in fees and costs.

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