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.