261 U.S. 174

261 U.S. 174

261 U.S. 174

43 S.Ct. 312

67 L.Ed. 596


No. 242.

Argued Jan. 18, 1923.

Decided Feb. 19, 1923.

Mr. W. S. Evans, of New York City, for appellant.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 174-176 intentionally omitted]

Mr. F. F. Church, of Rochester, N. Y., for appellee.

Mr. Justice BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.


The venue of suits for infringement of copyright is not determined by the general provision governing suits in the federal district courts. Judicial Code, § 51 (Comp. St. § 1033). The Copyright Act provides that suits ‘may be instituted in the district of which the defendant or his agent is an inhabitant, or in which he may be found.’ Act March 4, 1909, c. 320, § 35, 35 Stat. 1075, 1084 (Comp. St § 9556). Whether under this section a valid service was made upon defendant is the only question for decision.


New York is divided into four federal judicial districts. Judicial Code, § 97 (Comp. St. § 1084). Lumiere, a citizen and resident of New York City, in the Southern district, brought, in the federal court for that district, this suit to enjoin the infringement of a copyright by publications in that city. The defendant, Mae Edna Wilder, Inc., is a New York corporation, with its place of business in Rochester, in the Western district. It was not an inhabitant of the Southern district. It had no place of business there. It had no agent or employee there authorized to carry on business on its behalf. It transacted no business there. The only service of process made was by delivering to Mr. Adkin, who was its president, a copy of the summons while he was temporarily in New York City. He was not an inhabitant of the Southern district, and it was not shown that he was there on business of the company. The defendant, appearing especially for the purpose of objecting to the jurisdiction of he court, moved to quash the service on the ground that it was not amenable to process. The motion was granted; and the case is here on appeal under section 238 of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 1215), the question of jurisdiction having been duly certified.


That jurisdiction over a corporation cannot be acquired in a district in which it has no place of business and is not found, merely by serving process upon an executive officer temporarily therein, even if he is there on business of the company, has been settled. Philadelphia & Reading Ry. Co. v. McKibbin, 243 U. S. 264, 37 Sup. Ct. 280, 61 L. Ed. 710; Rosenberg Bros. & Co., Inc., v. Curtis Brown Co. (No. 102, decided January 2, 1923) 260 U. S. 516, 43 Sup. Ct. 170, 67 L. Ed. ——; Bank of America v. Whitney Central National Bank (No. 205, decided this day) 261 U. S. 171, 43 Sup. Ct. 311, 67 L. Ed. ——. The contention here, is that jurisdiction was obtained over the defendant because its president is an agent within the meaning of the statute and was personally found in New York City. If such facts are sufficient to give jurisdiction, a suit upon a copyright may be brought in any district of the United States in which one who is an officer or an agent of a defendant is served with process, although neither plaintiff nor defendant has his residence or a place of business there, and although the copyright was not infringed there. It is not to be lightly assumed that Congress intended such a thing. Compare In re Keasbey & Mattison Co., 160 U. S. 221, 16 Sup. Ct. 273, 40 L. Ed. 402; Macon Grocery Co. v. Atlantic Coast Line R. R. Co., 215 U. S. 501, 30 Sup. Ct. 184, 54 L. Ed. 300; Ladew v. Tennessee Copper Co., 218 U. S. 357, 31 Sup. Ct. 81, 54 L. Ed. 1069.


Ordinarily a civil suit to enforce a personal liability under a federal statute can be brought only in the district of which the defendant is an inhabitant. Judicial Code, § 51. In a few classes of cases, a carefully limited right to sue elsewhere has been given. In patent cases it is the district of which the defendant is an inhabitant or in which acts of infringement have been committed and the defendant has a regular and established place of business. Judicial Code, § 48 (Comp. St. § 1030); W. S. Tyler Co. v. Ludlow-Saylor Wire Co., 236 U. S. 723, 35 Sup. Ct. 458, 59 L. Ed. 808. In cases under the anti-trust laws, it is where the defendant ‘resides or is found or has an agent’ (Act. Oct. 15, 1914, c. 323, § 4, 38 Stat. 730, 731; Comp. St. § 8835d), and, in the case of corporations, the ‘district whereof it is an inhabitant’ or ‘any district wherein it may be found or transacts business.’ Section 12, p. 736 (Comp. St. § 8835k). It is not reasonable to conclude that Congress intended in copyright cases to give a right far greater than these. ‘Agent’ is a word used in the law in many senses. What it means in a statute is to be determined from the context and the subject-matter. The president of a business corporation is, commonly, authorized to represent it for many purposes, and it may often be said properly that he is acting as its agent. But induction into office does not impress upon a person the status of agent of the corporation, so that he must be deemed its agent in every jurisdiction which he happens to enter, although the corporation transacts no business there and he is not there in any way representing it. The service of process made upon Mr. Adkin was, clearly, not service upon an agent of the corporation within the meaning of the Copyright Act (U. S. Comp. St. § 9517 et seq.).


As there is in this case only one defendant, the provision concerning suits in states which contain more than one federal judicial district can have no application. See Judicial Code, § 52 (Comp. St. § 1034); Comp v. Gress, 250 U. S. 308, 314, 39 Sup. Ct. 478, 63 L. Ed. 997. Whether, under the Copyright Act, service upon an agent would be effective as upon one ‘found,’ if it appeared that the agent when served was transacting some business for defendant wi hin the jurisdiction, but was there only temporarily, and had his residence and place of business elsewhere, is a question which we need not decide in this case.