Case before Calif. high court to determine state’s jurisdiction over Internet lawsuits

CALIFORNIA — A case before the state supreme court coulddetermine whether people who publish Web sites in other statescan be forced to defend themselves from lawsuits in California,even if they have no business dealings there.

The case involves former Purdue University student MatthewPavlovich, who is being sued by the DVD Copy Control Associationfor posting information on his Web site about decoding encryptedDVDs. Pavlovich challenged the lawsuit, claiming California courts,where the suit was filed in December 1999, had no jurisdictionover the matter since he was living in Indiana at the time.

A state appeals court ruled in August that the case could goforward. Pavlovich appealed to the California Supreme Court inJanuary seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.

The Student Press Law Center filed a friend-of-the-court briefin the case, arguing that it could have far-reaching effects onstudents’ ability to publish information on the Internet.

"The case poses significant danger in that it can significantlychill the online speech rights of individual journalists and studentjournalists who don’t have the resources to protect themselvesin every jurisdiction where their message is read," saidattorney Allonn Levy, who is representing Pavlovich.

The DVD Copy Control Association argues that Pavlovich’s Website contained information that could have potentially harmedthe motion-picture industry and computer businesses in California.

The SPLC joined the Computer and Communications Industry Associationin the brief to highlight the sweeping implications the appealscourt’s ruling could have on free speech on the Internet.

"The rule adopted by the Court of Appeals imposing universaljurisdiction for any harm caused by information published on theInternet would have a chilling effect on speech and commerce onthe Internet, as individuals, academic researchers, news organizations,public interest groups, and corporations who publish informationon the Internet now must consider themselves subject to suit anywhereby anyone who feels wronged by that information," the briefstates.

Pavlovich is asking the supreme court to throw out the caseon the grounds that the trial court and appeals court erred byoverstepping their jurisdiction.

View the friend-of-the-court brief filed by the SPLC.