One might think that in cases of copyright infringement, where the federal courts are granted original and exclusive jurisdiction, issues of personal jurisdiction would be a matter of federal law too. Personal jurisdiction is, though, instead intertwined with service of process, which is, in turn, determined by state law.
While Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(1)(D) states that service of a summons is effective to establish personal jurisdiction when authorized by a federal statute, the Copyright Act (like many federal statutes) does not specify the manner of service of process. This lack of specification has been construed as precluding nationwide service of process. As a result, Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(e)(1) requires that service must be effected in any federal district “pursuant to the law of the state in which the district is located, or in which service is effected, for the service of a summons upon the defendant in an action brought in the courts of general jurisdiction of the State.
Service of process by itself does not confer personal jurisdiction; instead, personal jurisdiction is determined by the law of the state in which service is effectuated, tempered, however, by federal constitutional due process concerns. That state will typically be plaintiff’’s forum state with service of process being made under a long-arm statute. For those who do not regularly transact business in the forum state, personal jurisdiction is usually asserted under the purposeful availment prong of specific jurisdiction.
Courts which have considered whether commercial transactions over eBay and other internet auction sites are sufficient to confer specific jurisdiction over the seller have noted that the seller had no control over who would ultimately be the highest bidder, and determined that the seller did not purposefully avail himself of the privilege of doing business in the forum state. A recent example is Great Notions, Inc. v. Thomas Danyeur, 2007 WL 944407 (N.D.Tex.) in which a pro se defendant successfully moved to have a complaint of copyright infringement dismissed (without prejudice) due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff Great Notions, Inc. (“Great Notions”) owns U .S. copyrights to thousands of embroidery designs. Danyeur allegedly counterfeited and sold Great Notions' designs through his online auction account with www.ebay.com and other interactive websites. Great Notions argued that the transactions over eBay were sufficient to establish jurisdiction. Siding with numerous other courts involving eBay transactions, the Court held that the typical online auction process is insufficient to confer specific jurisdiction over the defendant.