Monday, September 30, 2013

Florida's Idea Statute of Frauds

Florida Statute § 501.972 is interesting, and to my knowledge has never before been cited by any court.  That has now changed.

Joseph Kaminski, an engineer whom I believe worked for Honeywell building technology for NASA (see here), wanted to help BP after the Deepwater explosion.  BP had set up a system for receiving proposed solutions for stopping the oil leak, and Kaminski submitted a couple of his ideas.  Included in one of his submissions was the following:
Please take this under advisement.  Especially when the new little top hat fails tomorrow for all the reasons I stated.  This will work and it is far easier than the 100 ton top hat.  It will also be great for your image in this whole thing.  When My son and I become paid hero's [sic] for the idea and helping you from here in tampabay [sic] florida.  I will say it was BP's willingness to work and find the right solution from anyone anywhere for this very unique problem.  You will also pay me and my son at least 2 million for the idea and my personal help to guarantee [sic] its succes [sic].
Kaminski believes BP used at least two of his ideas, so he sued for breach of an implied contract as well as unjust enrichment.  BP sought refuge under Florida's (unique?) Idea Protection Statute, which reads as follows:
501. 972   Actions based upon use of a creation that is not protected under federal copyright law.
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2), the use of an idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, discovery, thought, or other creation that is not a work of authorship protected under federal copyright law does not give rise to a claim or cause of action, in law or in equity, unless the parties to the claim or cause of action have executed a writing sufficient to indicate that a contract has been made between them governing such use.
(2) Subsection (1) does not affect or limit:
     (a) Any cause of action based in copyright, trademark, patent, or trade secret; or
     (b) Any defense raised in connection with a cause of action described in paragraph (2).
Fla. Stat. § 501.972.  In other words, Florida has a statute of frauds for uses of ideas.  While this law was passed in 2006, it does not appear to have been used by a Court previously.

Here, the Court was convinced by BP's argument that this statute shielded BP from liability.  The Court analyzed the Copyright Act and noted the similarity in language between this statute's definition of what is not protected by Copyright and the Copyright Act's similar definitional language.  Recognizing that copyright does not protect ideas, but expressions of ideas, the Court found Kaminski's submissions to be ideas clearly governed by Florida's law:
Here, Plaintiff's ideas are not works of authorship and are expressly excluded from protection under the Copyright Act; Section 501.972 therefore applies to BP's use of Plaintiff's idea.
Because there was no writing between the parties executed by BP, Kaminski's claim fails.

Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Granted.
Kaminski v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc., Case No. 8:12-cv-826 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 24, 2013) (J. Bucklew)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Can You Get Self-Help Relief Through A Default Judgment?

Not if you don't plead it in your complaint.   Sony sued Discount Cameras & Computers Inc. and Mauricio Martinez for trademark infringement and a handful of other causes related to Discount Camera's unauthorized usage of the SONY trademarks.  Defendants did not respond, so Sony sought and received a default.  After the Clerk entered Default, Sony moved for a Default Judgment, seeking an injunction.  So far, so good.  But the proposed judgment included the following language:
ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the Defendants ... shall, within fifteen (15) days of the date of entry of this Default Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction, remove [from their premises] all signage bearing one or more of the SONY Trademarks ...
ORDERED and ADJUDGED that, in the event that the Defendants ... fail to remove from the business premises ... all signage ... then the Court hereby authorizes the Plaintiffs and their representatives ... to enter the property ... and remove all signage...
(emphasis added).  The Court did not approve of this language, relying on Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(c) ("A default judgment must not differ in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the pleadings."):
Plaintiffs are therefore entitled to default judgment on all of their claims, as well as a permanent injunction enjoining Defendants from further infringement and unlawful conduct -- but only as to the injunctive relief demanded in the Complaint (Doc. 1).  Plaintiffs are not entitled to self-help should Defendants continue to infringe Plaintiff's marks.  The Court declines to retain jurisdiction over this matter.
Motion for Default Judgment, Granted in Part, Denied in Part.
Sony Corp. v. Discount Cameras & Computers, Inc., Case No. 6:12-cv-1892 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 5, 2013) (J. Dalton) (adopting Report and Recommendation of Mag. Baker).

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Agreeing To An Injunction Waives Personal Jurisdiction Challenge; But Alleging "Deliberate" Copyright Infringement Justifies Personal Jurisdiction?

Gainesville Coins operates a website for selling precious medals.  So does Vanguard Capital Group.  But Vanguard copied product descriptions and pictures off of Gainesville's website.  So Gainesville sued for copyright infringement.  First, Gainesville sought and obtained a temporary restraining order.  Next, the Court referred Gainesville's request for a preliminary injunction the Magistrate Judge, who extended the restraining order and set a hearing.   Three days before the hearing, Vanguard's attorney appeared, and the parties agreed to a stipulated preliminary injunction - presumably to obviate the need for the hearing.

Vanguard next moved the Court to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that merely operating a website was insufficient contacts with Florida to justify a lawsuit here.  The Court was not persuaded:
As Gainesville Coins points out, Vanguard moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction after Vanguard stipulated to a preliminary injunction and participated in the case management conference.  Importantly, Vanguard did not reserve its right to contest the Court’s jurisdiction over it at any of these junctures. Under these facts, Vanguard waived the defense and its motion to dismiss is denied on this ground. See Aeration Solutions, Inc. v. Dickman, 85 Fed.Appx. 772, 774 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (finding defendants voluntarily acknowledged and acquiesced to the district court’s jurisdiction over them by stipulating to an injunction); Nat. Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA v. Beta Constr. LLC, 8:10-CV-1541-T-26TBM, 2010 WL 4316573, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 26, 2010) (finding defendant “waived his right to attack the personal jurisdiction of [the] Court by entering an appearance and participating in the case management conference without objecting to the Court’s personal jurisdiction”).
Turning next to the substance of Vanguard's argument, the Court also found personal jurisdiction proper under Florida's long-arm statute and the "effect's test."  As to Florida's long-arm statute:
Copyright infringement is a tortious act that satisfies Florida’s long-arm statute. See Smith v. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, 8:09-CV-1013-T-33EAJ, 2011 WL 824675, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 3, 2011); see also Cable/Home Commc’ns [v. Network Productions, Inc], 902 F.2d at 854 [(11th Cir. 1990)]. Also, the infringement occurred in Florida to the extent that Vanguard’s website is accessible in Florida and has been accessed by Florida residents.
The Court next turned to the "effects test" and relied on the Calder decision, which found personal jurisdiction appropriate for an intentional tort committed against a Florida resident.  Calder concerned a California plaintiff that sued a Florida newspapers for an alleged libelous article.  The Court held that such an intentional tort committed against a California resident justified jurisdiction over the Florida company in California.

But here, copyright infringement is a strict liability tort.  Intent is irrelevant for purposes of a direct infringement claim, although intent can increase a statutory damage award.  No matter.  The Court concluded because Gainseville alleged deliberate and willful infringement, the cause was akin to an intentional tort such as Calder justifying jurisdiction:
The Court concludes that Vanguard’s alleged actions of: deliberately and willfully infringing upon Gainesville Coins’ copyright by copying nearly the entire website for Gainesville Coins; and displaying the Work at its competing website, the Vanguard Website, for commercial gain because Vanguard is a competitor of Gainesville Coins, are sufficient to meet the “effects test”. In other words, Vanguard’s alleged acts purposefully availed itself of this forum. See Waterproof Gear, Inc. v. Leisure Pro, Ltd., 8:08-cv-2191-T-33MAP, 2009 WL 1066249, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 20, 2009) (finding that defendant purposefully availed itself of the forum when defendant copied and placed plaintiff’s copyrighted marketing materials on defendant’s website).
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, Denied.
Gainesville Coins, LLC. v. VCG Ventures, Inc., Case No. 8:13-CV-1402 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 28, 2013) (J. Moody)