SKIDMORE v. ZEPPELIN et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JUAN R. SANCHEZ ON 5/6/2015. 5/6/2015 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(sg, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
AS TRUSTEE FOR THE RANDY CRAIG
LED ZEPPELIN, et al.
Juan R. Sánchez, J.
May 6, 2015
Plaintiff Michael Skidmore, as trustee for the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, brings claims for
direct, contributory, and vicarious copyright infringement against the living members of the band
Led Zeppelin (James Patrick “Jimmy” Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones) and various
music industry companies associated with Led Zeppelin. The corporate Defendants are (1) Super
Hype Publishing, Inc., a publishing company owned and managed by Page that publishes the
musical compositions of Led Zeppelin and Page; (2) Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., a global
music publishing company that publishes and administers Super Hype’s catalog of songs,
including Led Zeppelin’s music; (3) Atlantic Recording Corporation, the record company that
manufactured, sold, and distributed Led Zeppelin IV, the album containing the allegedly
infringing song “Stairway to Heaven” and the owner of the master recordings of Led Zeppelin IV
and “Stairway to Heaven”; (4) Warner Music Group Corp. (WMG), the parent company of
Defendants Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Atlantic Recording Corporation, and Rhino
Entertainment Company; and (5) Rhino Entertainment Company, a company that develops
WMG’s catalog of artists in the United States and provides support and assistance to the WMG’s
Defendants have moved to either dismiss or transfer the case to the United States District
Court for the Central District of California, Western Division. For the following reasons,
Defendants’ motions will be granted.
Plaintiff alleges Led Zeppelin copied significant portions of its iconic 1971 song
“Stairway to Heaven” from Randy Craig Wolfe’s copyrighted guitar composition “Taurus,” and
that all of the Defendants have exploited and continue to exploit “Taurus” as “Stairway to
Heaven.” Plaintiff sues all Defendants for direct, contributory, and vicarious copyright
infringement and also brings a claim for equitable relief in the form of an order directing
Defendants and the Copyright Office to include Wolfe as a writer of “Stairway to Heaven.”
Defendants filed motions to dismiss or transfer the case, one on behalf of the individual
Defendants (Page, Plant, and Jones) and the other on behalf of the corporate Defendants. All
Defendants ask this Court to dismiss this case for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). The corporate Defendants also ask the Court to either
dismiss the case for improper venue pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3) and 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) or to
transfer the case to the Central District of California, where three of the five corporate
Defendants have their principal places of business and where all Defendants consent to
jurisdiction and venue. If the Court finds jurisdiction and venue are proper in this District, all
Defendants ask the Court to transfer the case to the Central District of California “[f]or the
convenience of parties and witnesses” and “in the interest of justice” pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1404(a). Plaintiff opposes the motions and, in the event that the Court requires more facts to
resolve the personal jurisdiction issue, seeks leave to conduct jurisdictional discovery.
Venue in a copyright action is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1400(a), which provides that an
action under the federal copyright laws “may be instituted in the district in which the defendant
or his agent resides or may be found.” A defendant in a copyright action “may be found”
wherever the defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction; thus, “venue in a copyright action is
proper in any judicial district in which the defendant would be amenable to personal jurisdiction
if the district were a separate state.” Blackburn v. Walker Oriental Rug Galleries, Inc., 999 F.
Supp. 636, 638 (E.D. Pa. 1998) (citations omitted).
“[A] District Court typically exercises personal jurisdiction according to the law of the
state where it sits.” O’Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., 496 F.3d 312, 316 (3d Cir. 2007); see
Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(1)(A). Pennsylvania’s long-arm statute permits the exercise of personal
jurisdiction “to the fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States” and “based
on the most minimum contact with this Commonwealth allowed under the Constitution of the
United States.” 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5322(b). In order for the Court to have jurisdiction over
the Defendants in this case, they must have “certain minimum contacts with . . . [Pennsylvania]
such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and
substantial justice.” O’Connor, 496 F.3d at 316-17 (alterations in original) (quoting Int’l Shoe
Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). Once the defense of lack of personal jurisdiction
is raised, “the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that personal jurisdiction exists.” Marten v.
Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 295-96 (3d Cir. 2007). Where the court does not hold an evidentiary
hearing, the plaintiff “need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction and . . . [is]
entitled to have [its] allegations taken as true and all factual disputes drawn in [its] favor.”
O’Connor, 496 F.3d at 316 (quoting Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir.
2004)). A plaintiff meets its burden to establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction by
demonstrating “with reasonable particularity sufficient contacts between the defendant and the
forum state.” Mellon Bank (East) PSFS v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1223 (3d Cir. 1992) (citation
omitted). Because a Rule 12(b)(2) motion “is inherently a matter which requires resolution of
factual issues outside the pleadings, i.e. whether in personam jurisdiction actually lies,” the
plaintiff may not rely on “bare pleadings alone” but must “respond with actual proofs, not mere
allegations.” Time Share Vacation Club v. Atlantic Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 66 n.9 (3d Cir.
1984); see also Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009) (“[O]nce
a defendant has raised a jurisdictional defense, the plaintiff must prov[e] by affidavits or other
competent evidence that jurisdiction is proper.” (second alteration in original) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted)).
There are two categories of personal jurisdiction: (1) general or “all-purpose”
jurisdiction, which a court may exercise to hear “any and all claims” against a defendant when
the defendant’s affiliations with the forum state are “so ‘continuous and systematic’ as to render
[it] essentially at home in the forum State,” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown,
131 S. Ct. 2846, 2851 (2011) (quoting Int’l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 317), and (2) specific jurisdiction,
which “depends on an affiliatio[n] between the forum and the underlying controversy” and is
“confined to adjudication of issues deriving from, or connected with, the very controversy that
establishes jurisdiction,” id. (alteration in original) (citations and internal quotation marks
For general jurisdiction to exist, “the contacts between the defendant and the forum need
not be specifically related to the underlying cause of action,” Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292
F.3d 361, 368 n.1 (3d Cir. 2002), but “only a limited set of affiliations with a forum will render a
defendant amenable to all-purpose jurisdiction there,” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746,
760 (2014). For an individual, “the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the
individual’s domicile,” id. (quoting Goodyear, 131 S. Ct. at 2853-54), and for a corporation, the
paradigm fora are its “place of incorporation and principal place of business,” id. The Supreme
Court has made clear that only in an “exceptional case” would an individual be “essentially at
home” in a forum other that of its domicile. Id. at 761 n.19.
For specific jurisdiction, the Third Circuit typically applies a three-part test:
First, the defendant must have purposefully directed [its] activities at the forum.
Second, the litigation must arise out of or relate to at least one of those activities.
And third, if the prior two requirements are met, a court may consider whether the
exercise of jurisdiction otherwise comport[s] with fair play and substantial justice.
O’Connor, 496 F.3d at 317 (alterations in original) (internal citations and quotation marks
A. Jurisdiction over Individual Defendants
Plaintiff asserts the Court has general jurisdiction over the individual Defendants because
they make millions of dollars on sales of their music and related goods and services in this
Defendants argue when an intentional tort claim is at issue, as in this case, the Third Circuit
applies “[a] slightly refined version of this test,” often referred to as the “effects test.” O’Connor,
496 F.3d at 317 n.2. Under the effects test, a plaintiff demonstrates personal jurisdiction by
(1) The defendant committed an intentional tort;
(2) The plaintiff felt the brunt of the harm in the forum such that the forum can be
said to be the focal point of the harm suffered by the plaintiff as a result of that
(3) The defendant expressly aimed his tortious conduct at the forum such that the
forum can be said to be the focal point of the tortious activity.
Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 297 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting IMO Indus., Inc. v. Kiekert AG,
155 F.3d 254, 265-66 (3d Cir. 1998)). During oral argument, Plaintiff acknowledged that the
effects test is harder for him to meet than the traditional analysis described above. See Oral Arg.
Tr. 53, Feb. 4, 2015. Because the Court finds it does not have specific jurisdiction as to the
individual Defendants under the traditional analysis and the standard under the effects test is
harder for Plaintiff to establish, it need not also review jurisdiction under the effects test.
District, including through CD sales, digital downloads, radio and television play, advertising,
marketing, concert performances, other performances, licensing, merchandising, book sales, Tshirt sales, and poster sales. In other words, Plaintiff contends the individual Defendants’ core
business of selling and promoting their albums, songs, and concert tickets in the District
establishes the continuous and systematic contacts necessary for the Court to exercise general
jurisdiction. In addition, Plaintiff argues that each time Led Zeppelin performed “Stairway to
Heaven” in Philadelphia in the past, Defendants used the city’s airport, police, infrastructure,
highways, and venues, further establishing their continuous and systematic contacts with the
Alternatively, Plaintiff asserts the Court has specific jurisdiction over the individual
Defendants because they deliberately target Pennsylvania and the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania for marketing and sales of the infringing song “Stairway to Heaven” through, inter
alia, CD sales, digital downloading, radio and television play, advertising, marketing, concert
performances, other performances, and licensing. He argues Defendants “have availed
themselves of the privilege of conducting activities and business within this forum,” and “it is
reasonably foreseeable to all Defendants that they would be subject to suit in this district.” Pl.’s
Plaintiff asserts Defendant Page is susceptible to both general and specific jurisdiction for
additional reasons: (1) Page was interviewed on October 28, 2014, by a Philadelphia radio
station to promote the rerelease of Led Zeppelin IV, an album that includes “Stairway to
Heaven”; (2) Page markets and sells a book in this forum titled Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page,
which is exclusively about Led Zeppelin; and (3) Page has performed several shows in
Pennsylvania, the latest one occurring in July 1998, and Page played “Stairway to Heaven” at
these performances, see Oral Arg. Tr. 66, Feb. 4, 2015.
In opposition, the individual Defendants have submitted declarations stating they (1) are
citizens and subjects of the United Kingdom, (2) reside in London, (3) have never resided in
Pennsylvania or been issued a Pennsylvania driver’s license, (4) have never owned any real or
personal property located in Pennsylvania, (5) have never owned any bank or brokerage accounts
in Pennsylvania, (6) have no employees in Pennsylvania, (7) are not currently (and, to the best of
their knowledge, have never been) parties to any contract with a Pennsylvania resident or
company, (8) have not been in Pennsylvania for the purpose of promoting the exploitation, sale
or distribution of Led Zeppelin’s music since at least 1980, and (9) have not performed as part of
Led Zeppelin in Pennsylvania since 1985, when the band participated without fee in a “Live
Aid” charity concert.
The Court finds the individual Defendants are not subject to either general or specific
jurisdiction in this District. First, none of the individual Defendants are domiciled in this District,
and therefore, it is only the “exceptional case” in which this Court can exercise general
jurisdiction over them. Next, in determining general jurisdiction, “[o]nly contacts occurring
within a reasonable period of time prior to the filing of this action are relevant to this Court’s
general jurisdiction inquiry.” Phila. Prof’l Collections, LLC v. Young, No. 10- 00724, 2010 WL
5257651, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 22, 2010); see Johnson v. Woodcock, 444 F.3d 953, 955 (8th Cir.
2006) (“Minimum contacts must exist either at the time the cause of action arose, the time the
suit was filed, or within a reasonable period of time immediately prior to the filing of the
lawsuit.” (citation omitted)); Klinghoffer v. S.N.C. Achille Lauro Ed Altri-Gestione Motonave
Achille Lauro in Amministrazione Straordinaria, 937 F.2d 44, 52 (2d Cir. 1991) (“[P]ersonal
jurisdiction depends on the defendant’s contacts with the forum state at the time the lawsuit was
filed.” (citation omitted)). Copyright infringement claims are subject to a three-year statute of
limitations; see 17 U.S.C. § 507(b); Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1962,
1969 (2014), and Plaintiff filed this case on May 31, 2014. Because this case only involves acts
of infringement arising after May 31, 2011, Plaintiff’s reliance on contacts that are seventeen or
more years old to establish general jurisdiction is unreasonable. Page’s separate performances in
the 1980s and 1990s and the individual Defendants’ Live Aid concert performance are not
relevant in the Court’s general jurisdiction analysis.2
Further, the sales of Defendants’ music and products, including Page’s book, in this
District are not a regular or systematic contact by the Defendants; Plaintiff has not alleged any
facts suggesting the individual Defendants exercised control over where these products are sold
or marketed. “Due process requires that a defendant be haled into court in a forum State based on
his own affiliation with the State,” Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115, 1123 (2014), and the
corporate Defendants’ alleged contacts with the District cannot be imputed to the individual
Defendants. Page’s interview, in which he briefly discussed the allegedly infringing song, while
occurring much closer in time to the filing date of the Complaint, does not establish regular or
systematic contacts with the forum, either on behalf of himself or on behalf of the other
See also MacQueen v. Union Carbide Corp., No. 13-831, 2014 WL 6809811, at *6 (D. Del.
Dec. 3, 2014) (“When courts assess whether there is personal jurisdiction over a party . . . they
typically do so by examining whether jurisdiction exists either at the time the cause of action
arose, the time the suit was filed, or within a reasonable time prior to the filing of the lawsuit.”
(citing cases)); A.S.T., LLC v. Carvin Pallenberg, No. 07-795, 2008 WL 2074010, at *3 (D.N.J.
May 15, 2008) (“[P]ersonal jurisdiction depends on the defendant’s contacts with the forum state
at the time the lawsuit was filed.” (citation omitted)); Saudi v. Acomarit Maritmes Servs., S.A.D.,
No. 01-4301, 2002 WL 1373077, at *1 (E.D. Pa. June 24, 2002) (finding for purposes of general
jurisdiction “the relevant contacts would be those in temporal proximity to [the cause of action]
and “[c]ontacts that existed well before the accident would not be relevant to demonstrate
general jurisdiction at the time of the [cause of action]”).
individual Defendants. These individual Defendants are not “essentially at home” in this District
and subjecting them to general jurisdiction here would not comport with notions of fair play or
There are also insufficient contacts to justify the Court’s exercise of specific jurisdiction
over the individual Defendants. Other than Page’s radio interview, the only acts alleged to have
been performed by the individual Defendants in this District are concerts that occurred at least
seventeen years ago. Given the three-year statute of limitations for copyright claims, these
performances are not contacts upon which the Court may base its exercise of specific
jurisdiction. Page’s single radio interview in which he briefly discussed “Stairway to Heaven”
does not demonstrate he has purposefully directed infringing activities at this forum and is much
too small and remote to comport with the requirements of due process in the jurisdictional
analysis. As to the fact that copies of “Stairway to Heaven” and Page’s book are sold in stores
located in the District, Plaintiff has failed to plead facts establishing that these sales are acts by
the individual Defendants purposefully directed at the forum. Again, there is no evidence, and
Plaintiff has not alleged, the individual Defendants have any control over where the song (or
book) is distributed.
Because Plaintiff has failed to present factual allegations that suggest the possible
existence of other contacts with this forum, any jurisdictional discovery for these Defendants
would be futile. As a result, jurisdiction and venue in this District are improper as to the
individual Defendants. These Defendants, however, have consented to personal jurisdiction and
venue in the Central District of California. When venue is improper, the Court may dismiss the
case or, in the interest of justice, transfer it to a district court in which the case could have been
brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).3 See Knight v. Corp. for Nat. & Cmty. Serv., No. 032433, 2004 WL 2415079, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 28, 2004). Generally, “[d]ismissal is a disfavored
remedy because of the strains it imposes on judicial and party resources,” id., and a court can
transfer the case to a forum in which it could have been brought even if it lacks personal
jurisdiction over the defendant, see Goldlawr, Inc. v. Heiman, 369 U.S. 463, 465-67 (1962). As
explained below, because this case cannot proceed against the individual Defendants in this
District, but can proceed against all Defendants in the Central District of California, the Court
finds that transfer is in the interest of justice. The Court will therefore transfer the claims asserted
against the individual Defendants to the Central District of California.
B. Corporate Defendants
The Court need not decide whether the corporate Defendants are subject to personal
jurisdiction in this forum. When venue is proper for some defendants but not for other defendants
and dismissal is not appropriate, a district court can either transfer the entire case to a district
where venue is proper for all defendants or sever the claims against the defendants for whom
venue is improper and transfer only that portion of the case. See Cottman Transmission Sys., Inc.
v. Martino, 36 F.3d 291, 296 (3d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). As for severance, “[w]hen the
conduct of a co-defendant as to whom venue is proper is central to the issues raised by the
plaintiff against those subject to transfer, the grant of a severance would not ordinarily be
consistent with the sound exercise of discretion.” Id.
Severance and transfer of only the claims against the individual Defendants would
impose unnecessary costs on the parties and the judicial system. All of Plaintiff’s claims arise out
Although Defendants have not moved for transfer pursuant to § 1406(a), a court may transfer a
case pursuant to this statute either upon motion by the defendant or sua sponte “when such a
transfer is in the interest of justice.” Decker v. Dyson, 165 F. App’x 951, 954 n. 3 (3d Cir. 2006);
accord Lafferty v. St. Riel, 495 F.3d 72, 75 n. 3 (3d Cir. 2007).
of the same series of events, and a second, largely identical action filed against the individual
Defendants would waste judicial resources and inconvenience witnesses. In addition, all
Defendants consent to suit in the Central District of California; the Trust—the owner of the
copyright that was allegedly infringed—is a creature of California law (and Defendants intend to
challenge the creation of the Trust and Skidmore’s standing as trustee); there are no
Pennsylvania witnesses; there are a number of potential California witnesses regarding Wolfe’s
alleged ownership of the copyright to “Taurus” and the formation of the Trust; and California
law governs the validity of songwriting and recording contracts Wolfe supposedly entered into
before writing “Taurus,” which bears on the ownership of the copyright at issue in this case.
Thus, the Court will transfer the entire action to the district in which all Defendants consent to
jurisdiction and venue and in which the court is better-suited to rule on the state law issues. See
Sunbelt Corp. v. Noble, Denton & Assocs., Inc., 5 F.3d 28, 33-34 (3d Cir. 1993) (“[The court]
should not sever if the defendant over whom jurisdiction is retained is so involved in the
controversy to be transferred that partial transfer would require the same issues to be litigated in
two places.” (quoting Liaw Su Teng v. Skaarup Shipping Corp., 743 F.2d 1140, 1148 (5th Cir.
1984)); Celsion Corp. v. Stearns Mgmt. Corp., 2001 WL 55456, at *4 (D. Md. 2001) (finding
when venue is improper for some, but not all, defendants, transferring entire case to district
where venue would be proper for all defendants is preferable to dismissing defendants whose
venue objections are valid); see also Joe Solo Prods., Inc. v. Dawson, No. 09-555, 2009 WL
2232856, at *7 (N.D. Ohio July 23, 2009); Knight, No. 2004 WL 2415079, at *6; Loeb v. Bank
of Am., 254 F. Supp. 2d 581, 588 n.14 (E.D. Pa. 2003).
Accordingly, Defendants’ motions to transfer will be granted. An appropriate order
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Juan R. Sánchez
Juan R. Sánchez, J.
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