California Court Dismisses Copyright Suit Against BBC Over Cosby Documentary Over Lack Of Jurisdiction

from the hey-hey-hey dept

Late last year, we covered a very odd lawsuit brought against the BBC by the production team for The Cosby Show centering around a BBC documentary covering Bill Cosby’s fall from grace in America. Bill Cosby: Fall of an American Icon used several short clips from The Cosby Show, altogether totaling less than four minutes of run-time, and all of them used to provide context to Cosby’s once-held status as an American public figure in good standing. Despite the BBC distributing the documentary exclusively overseas, production company Casey-Werner filed its suit in California. Whatever the geography around the legal action, we argued at the time that the BBC’s actions were as clear a case of fair use as we’d ever seen.

It seems that legal argument will not be answered in this suit, however, as the court has decided instead to simply dismiss over a lack of jurisdiction. While the BBC’s filings had indeed hinted at a forthcoming fair use defense, it also argued that the California court had no business adjudicating this matter to begin with.

BBC argued no actionable infringement could possibly have taken place within a California federal court’s jurisdiction because the documentary was only broadcast in the U.K., and while Fall of an American Icon was later available via the BBC’s iPlayer, “geoblocking” prevented it from being seen in the United States absent use of virtual private networks or proxy servers to evade restrictions.

In response, Casey-Werner argued essentially that everyone knows that geo-blocking doesn’t work and is easily defeated by the use of a VPN or DNS proxy. And, hey, that’s true, except that the failures of geo-blocking technology doesn’t give rise to jurisdiction by a California court. Only the BBC’s direct action in getting this content stateside would do that and the BBC clearly took steps specifically to avoid that happening. From Judge Percy Anderson’s ruling:

That some California individuals may have viewed the Program does not establish that Defendants directed their conduct toward California, particularly because any viewership in California occurred despite Defendants’ intentions and their efforts to prevent it.

Unauthorized viewers outside of the United Kingdom do not provide a basis for personal jurisdiction; rather, Defendants’ relationship with California must arise out of contacts that they themselves created with the state. … Moreover, Plaintiff neither alleges nor offers actual evidence of the extent of viewership of the Program in California.

And so the court never takes on the question of whether this is fair use or not, which it most certainly is. That we never got to that stage says a great deal more about the quality of Casey-Werner’s legal team than it does about the protections the BBC sit comfortably behind. The case was dismissed without prejudice, and Casey-Werner could always try to file another lawsuit in the U.K., but it would do well to drop this whole thing and lick its wounds instead.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: bbc, casey-werner

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “California Court Dismisses Copyright Suit Against BBC Over Cosby Documentary Over Lack Of Jurisdiction”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
26 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

It’s a wonder that these kind of lawsuits are not more common, since licensing requests are routinely turned down by copyright holders whenever they feel that the material will be used in a negative way (which in the case of Bill Cosby, was a virtual certainty).

Then the documentary film producer has no choice but to use it anyway, claim fair use, and hope no lawsuit results.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Surprised

The court got it right. The fact the BBC’s efforts could be evaded by someone’s personal efforts does not negate the fact the show was blocked for distribution in the US. Geoblocking can be evaded by some relatively easy methods but these methods require the user to actively do something; something many will not do even if they are aware of the methods.

Anonymous Coward says:

“In response, Casey-Werner argued essentially that everyone knows that geo-blocking doesn’t work and is easily defeated by the use of a VPN or DNS proxy. And, hey, that’s true, except that the failures of geo-blocking technology doesn’t give rise to jurisdiction by a California court. Only the BBC’s direct action in getting this content stateside would do that and the BBC clearly took steps specifically to avoid that happening. From Judge Percy Anderson’s ruling:”

Its a wonder that Casey-Warner did not come out with the argument that with the BBC geoblocking access to the documentary that this is prove that the BBC knew that they committed copyright infringement and took steps to geoblock the documentary to hide behind and avoid being charged with copyright infringement. /sarcasm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Wait, I thought US jusrisdiction was world-wide.

“California Court Dismisses Copyright Suit Against BBC Over Cosby Documentary Over Lack Of Jurisdiction”

“The BBC responded because they do have a business presence in California and were clearly subject to the jurisdiction of the courts.”

Nah, no conflict there.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Wait, I thought US jusrisdiction was world-wide.

“Oh, please do, but please use a standard dictionary.”

I explained a little further here: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180227/09361339316/california-court-dismisses-copyright-suit-against-bbc-over-cosby-documentary-over-lack-jurisdiction.shtml#c434

Let me know if those words were too big for you or if you want me to dumb it down a notch. The tldr version: a company having an presence in a particular jurisdiction does not make all of its products under that jurisdiction, if those products are not made or sold there.

“Talk about assholes”

Nah, talking to you is boring enough.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Wait, I thought US jusrisdiction was world-wide.

I didn’t say that there was not a conflict. I said that the company having a presence does not mean that every product it produces elsewhere in other departments is under the jurisdiction of that country.

To give a physical world example, having a sales office in CA does not mean that products produced for the UK market have to abide by US electrical standards. That’s essentially what’s happening here – the company is trying to apply US copyright law to a product made for the UK because they have some unspecified business in the US not related to that product. It doesn’t work like that. They need jurisdiction over the actual product, which they don’t have because it was neither produced nor distributed there,

Seriously, you people really do need to start comprehending facts rather than rushing to criticise others. You’re not only wrong, you just look dumb while pretending you know things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Wait, I thought US jusrisdiction was world-wide.

I said that the company having a presence does not mean that every product it produces elsewhere in other departments is under the jurisdiction of that country.

And you know what, the comment you were responding to didn’t claim that either, asshole. Nice try.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Wait, I thought US jusrisdiction was world-wide.

So, instead of name calling, try actually explaining what I got wrong.

The person I responded to seemed to think that having an office in a jurisdiction made their products under that jurisdiction. He was wrong. Since you have magically gleaned something else from his words, explain them. You guys are too busy circle jerking around something that I’ve apparently got wrong to state what it actually is.

I know ACs like you are too busy attacking people to actually state what you think your point is, but perhaps you can be one of the few honest souls willing to make an exception.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...