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Zippo Manufacturing v. Zippo Dot Com

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Citation Edit

Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

Defendant Zippo Dot Com, a California corporation, operated a website and an Internet news service. Zippo Dot Com had obtained the exclusive rights to use the domain names zippo.com, zippo.net and zipponews.com on the Internet. Plaintiff, a well known tobacco lighter manufacturer, filed suit in Pennsylvania alleging trademark dilution, trademark infringement and false designation of origin under the Lanham Act. Defendant moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

The court denied the motion, reasoning that although defendant's contacts with Pennsylvania occurred almost exclusively over the Internet, defendant had 3,000 paying subscribers in that state and had entered into agreements with seven Internet service providers in Pennsylvania to permit their subscribers access to defendants' news service. These contacts, the court concluded, were sufficient to pass the "purposeful availment" prong of the test, as the defendant freely chose to sell its services to Pennsylvania residents.

Discussion Edit

The opinion established a three prong test for determining whether a court has jurisdiction over a website. Under this test, websites are divided into three categories:

  1. Commercial websites which do a substantial volume of business over the Internet, and through which customers in any location can immediately engage in business with the website owner, definitely provide a basis for jurisdiction.[1]
  2. Passive websites, which merely provide information, will almost never provide sufficient minimum contacts for jurisdiction. Such a website will only provide a basis for jurisdiction if there is an intentional tort such as defamation on the website, and if it is directed at the jurisdiction in question.[2]
  3. Interactive websites, which permit the exchange of information between the website owner and visitors, may be subject to jurisdiction, depending on the website's level of interactivity and commerciality, and the amount of contacts which the website owner has developed with the forum due to the availability of the website within the jurisdiction.[3]

References Edit

  1. At one end of the spectrum are situations where a defendant clearly does business over the Internet. If the defendant enters into contracts with residents of a foreign jurisdiction that involve the knowing and repeated transmission of computer files over the Internet, personal jurisdiction is proper.

    Id. at 1124.

  2. At the opposite end are situations where a defendant has simply posted information on an Internet Web site which is accessible to users in foreign jurisdictions. A passive Web site that does little more than make information available to those who are interested in it is not grounds for the exercise [of] personal jurisdiction.

    Id.

  3. The middle ground is occupied by interactive Web sites where a user can exchange information with the host computer. In these cases, the exercise of jurisdiction is determined by examining the level of interactivity and commercial nature of the exchange of information that occurs on the Web site.

    Id.

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