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Personal Jurisdiction in Internet Cases in the United States

Personal Jurisdiction in Internet Cases in the United States


This term refers to a defendant’s personal jurisdiction based upon their internet activities only.  Normally, defendants are protected from litigation from remote jurisdiction unless the crime was physically committed in the jurisdiction, but jurisdiction becomes blurred when internet users and companies on the internet are brought before the court. 

Several cases highlight the complexities involved in personal jurisdiction in internet cases in the United States.


The “Calder” Test vs. the “Zippo” Test

In Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984), a resident of California sued the National Enquirer in Florida for libel because of statement in a magazine.  The article was written and edited in Florida, but the article was written about a California resident and used references in California.  The court determined that the actions were aimed at the resident in California, and the same applies for the internet.  The court may determine that a defendant’s actions and aimed statements entitle them to prosecution in a certain jurisdiction regardless of how much time they spent on a website or how many contacts they held. 


The opposite occurred in Zippo Manufacturing Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc.  The Federal Court found that personal jurisdiction is determined by the amount and quality of commercial activity on the internet.  Interactivity with certain jurisdictions is determined by the website’s features and uses, and an interactive website is more vulnerable to personal jurisdiction than a passive website that simply provides information.  The “Zippo Test” thus splits websites into three main categories: those that conduct business over the internet, those that exchange information with other hosts, and those that simply provide information.


The majority of federal courts use the “Zippo Test” to determine personal jurisdiction. 


Important Cases and Personal Jurisdiction in internet Cases in the United States

Dudnikov v. Chalk  Vermilion

This case involved copyright infringement over eBay.  The plaintiffs sold fabrics and crafts on eBay, and Chalk Vermilion claimed infringement after a certain piece of material was sold.  The plaintiffs asked for the notice of copyright infringement to be withdrawn so their reputation was unharmed, but Dudnikov was notified that the company would file a case with the federal court in 10 days.  Before the company could file a case, the plaintiff’s filed a judgment that stated the fabric did not infringe on a copyright. 


In order to apply personal jurisdiction, the Court asked a series of questions and found the Calder test was met because of Chalk & Vermilion’s actions and the effects it had on the forum state. 


Boschetto v. Hansing

This case was brought forth in California after a resident in California bought a car on eBay from a dealership in Wisconsin.  The plaintiff noticed several problems with the car which were not described by the defendant.  The district court dismissed the case because of lack of personal jurisdiction.  The case went to the Ninth Circuit Court, and in a decision related to the Zippo Test, decided a single transaction was not enough to establish personal jurisdiction.



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