United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS
COHN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
are declaratory judgment actions arising out of alleged
copyright infringement violations. Plaintiff Mercedes Benz
USA, LLC (Mercedes) filed three (3) declaratory judgment
actions in this district against defendants who are artists
and represented by the same counsel. In broad terms, Mercedes
obtained a permit to photograph various locations in downtown
Detroit in conjunction with advertising one of its vehicles.
Mercedes posted six (6) of the photographs on Instagram which
depict in whole or in part murals painted on public buildings
in Detroit by defendants. Defendants, through counsel, sent
letters to Mercedes contending that the use of
defendants' murals violates copyright law. Mercedes
responded by seeking declaratory relief.
are: James Lewis (Lewis), Daniel Bombardier (Bombardier),
Jeff Soto (Soto) and Maxx Gramajo (Gramajo).
the Court are motions to dismiss filed by each defendant, as
motion to dismiss, Doc. 12 in No. 19-10951
the defendants argue that the declaratory judgment complaints
fail to state a claim because (1) the case is not ripe as
defendants have not registered copyrights, (2) Mercedes has
failed to state a claim under the Architectural Works
Copyright Protection Act (AWCPA), 17 U.S.C. § 120(a).
Soto and Gramajo also argue that the Court lacks personal
jurisdiction over them.
reasons that follow, the motions will be denied. As will be
explained, Mercedes has alleged a plausible claim for
declaratory relief against defendants and the Court has
personal jurisdiction over all of the defendants.
sells and distributes vehicles, including the G 500 Series
vehicle (the “G 500”). In January 2018, Mercedes
attended the North American International Auto Show in
Detroit, Michigan, to unveil the G 500, then its newest model
luxury SUV. During that time, Mercedes obtained a permit from
the City of Detroit to photograph the G 500 in specific
downtown areas. The permit authorized Mercedes to photograph
its G 500 in several locations, including the area between
the Eastern Market and 1314 Gratiot Avenue, where
defendants' murals are located
commissioned photographs of its G 500 throughout the city of
Detroit. On January 26, 2018, Mercedes posted six of those
photos on an Instagram account, @mercedesbenz.
Lewis, among the photos Mercedes posted was a picture
depicting the G 500 driving near 2001 Wilkins Street. The
photo partially depicted Lewis' mural in the background.
The post stated, “[t]his off-road legend is always
ready for some urban exploration to mix things up” and
was designed to highlight the G 500's versatility.
created the Mural in 2016 during the second year of the now
annual art festival, Murals in the Market. The festival aims
to revitalize the Eastern Market district of Detroit and turn
it “into a must-see destination for arts, as well as
food….” Complaint at ¶¶ 42-43, 45.
Lewis' mural was painted on the façade of a
building, was integrated into that building, and became a
permanent fixture of the Eastern Market's cityscape.
photo Mercedes posted was a picture of the G 500 driving in
front of Mike's Coney Island Restaurant. The photo
partially depicted Bombardier's mural in the background.
The post stated “[t]his off-road legend is always ready
for some urban exploration to mix things up” and was
designed to highlight the G 500's versatility.
created the mural in 2017 during the third year of the Murals
in the Market. The mural was painted on the side of
façade of a building, was integrated into that
building, and became a permanent fixture of the Eastern
photo Mercedes posted was a picture depicting the G 500
driving in front of the Gratiot Central Market. The photo
partially depicted a mural painted by Soto and Gramajo in the
background. Again, the post stated: “[t]his off-road
legend is always ready for some urban exploration to mix
things up” and was designed to highlight the G
and Gramajo created the mural in 2015 during the first year
of the Murals in the Market. The mural was painted on the
side of façade of a market building, was integrated
into that building, and ...