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Justin Bieber has succeeded in the first round of a legal dispute with the developer of a mobile game app named Joustin’ Beaver. In the process, he’s scored a point for other entertainers.
The dispute erupted in February. That month, RC3, a maker of Android apps, came out with a game titled Joustin’ Beaver, inspired by Biebermania. That didn’t sit well with the teen heartthrob singer, whose reps communicated legal threats to RC3. Soon after, RC3 filed a preemptive lawsuit against Bieber in Jacksonville.
The game features a beaver with bangs, a lance and a purple sweater floating on a log down a river. The protagonist must navigate the “whirlpool of success.” He battles “Phot-Hogs” attempting to take his photograph, signs “Otter-graphs,” and must keep control over his vessel.
In the lawsuit, RC3 contended that it had a First Amendment right to comment on Bieber’s life with a game it saw as a parody. The company believed that free speech trumped Bieber’s trademarks and publicity rights.
But the lawsuit against Bieber got detoured by something known in litigation circles as the “game of jurisdiction.”
Bieber, who grew up in Canada and has a home in a Los Angeles suburb, questioned why he was being sued in Florida of all places.
RC3 gave a few reasons in an attempt to save the lawsuit. The plaintiff pointed out that Bieber had performed in the state on several occasions, that he had made recording sessions there, and that he had business relations with companies that held some operations within Florida. For example, Bieber is a recording artist for Island Def Jam, which is part of Universal Music Group, which is a part of a bigger Universal company, which owns a theme park in the state.
To accept this line of reasoning, however, would likely mean that any entertainer who steps into Florida by way of music and movies among other things, would be open to getting sued there.
Alas, U.S. District Court judge Roy Dalton doesn’t buy it. If the celebrity isn’t domiciled in Florida, there’s got to be a better reason — something about the allegations — that provides grounds that a case should proceed there.
“In this case, the Court finds that it cannot exercise specific jurisdiction over Bieber,” writes the judge in his ruling last week. “RC3’s declaratory judgment action does not arise from nor is it directly related to any of Bieber’s business activities in Florida. This Court finds that intermittent concert performances and recording sessions are not directly related to the activity for which Bieber is being sued — asserting and policing his trademark and other intellectual property rights — ‘except perhaps in the very broadest sense.'”
The judge adds that sending a cease-and-desist letter and then communicating on the phone with RC3’s lawyers in Florida doesn’t qualify as constituting business operations there either.
Judge Dalton grants Bieber’s motion to dismiss RC3’s complaint without prejudice. RC3 can attempt to amend its complaint and try again. However, it’s just as likely that Bieber can attempt to go on the offensive in another state. For now, the whirlpool of success doesn’t include litigation funnels in Florida.
E-mail: email@example.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner
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