(CN) – California federal judges will preside over the lawsuit between a Miami paparazzi agency and the Ohio-based celebrity gossip website it accuses of stealing photographs of Black Eyed Peas songbird Fergie frolicking in the Bahamas, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.
The federal appeals panel reversed a lower court’s dismissal of the copyright action, finding that Ohio-based Brand Technologies is subject to personal jurisdiction because its subsidiary, Celebrity-gossip.net, has “specific focus on the California-centered celebrity and entertainment industries.”
Mavrix Photo, a Miami entity, sued Brand three years ago in California’s Central District Court for reposting its copyrighted photographs of Fergie and actor Josh Duhamel, months before their marriage, “bathing, sunning, and jet skiing in the Bahamas,” according to the ruling.
U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, but the Pasadena-based appellate panel unanimously disagreed.
“It is clear from the record that Brand operated a very popular website with a specific focus on the California-centered celebrity and entertainment industries,” Judge William Fletcher wrote. “Based on the website’s subject matter, as well as the size and commercial value of the California market, we conclude that Brand anticipated, desired, and achieved a substantial California viewer base. This audience is an integral component of Brand’s business model and its profitability.”
While the ruling may place a future burden on some popular, national websites, a narrower reading of personal jurisdiction could place a similar burden on consumers, Fletcher added.
“But we note that the alternative proposed by Brand’s counsel at oral argument – that Mavrix can sue Brand only in Ohio or Florida – would substantially undermine the ‘interests … of the plaintiff in proceeding with the cause in the plaintiff’s forum of choice,'” he wrote. “Brand’s theory of jurisdiction would allow corporations whose websites exploit a national market to defeat jurisdiction in states where those websites generate substantial profits from local consumers.”