A4(4) Rome ‘s ‘proper law of the contract’ discussed under retained EU law in Ditto v Drive-Thru.

Ditto Ltd v Drive-Thru Records LLC [2021] EWHC 2035 (Ch) discusses the contract and tort gateways for jurisdiction in England and Wales (they need to be met for claimant to hold onto an earlier granted permission for ‘service out’ of the jurisdiction). The dispute concerns the world of music catalogues, advance royalties and (marketing) services rendered, or not, in regard to the  catalogued artists. Defendants are both based in California, claimant is England-incorporated. Concurrent proceedings are underway in New York.

Of interest to the blog is firstly the contractual gateway, which is to some degree assessed under retained EU law, for as part of its argument, claimant argues the lex contractus is English law.  That determination of the applicable law is done under (retained( EU law and Francis DM holds that it is not English law. No choice of law had been made per Article 3, which (in the absence of any protected categories) brings us into the cascade of A4 Rome I. It is worthwhile to repeat counsel argument in full [56-57]

Ms Lacob [for defendants] contended that the law of the agreements should be determined in accordance with paragraph (2) as being that of the State of California. That was on the basis that the party which was required to effect the characteristic performance of each of the agreements was Drive-Thru and War Road respectively, and their country, or (in this case) territorial unit, of habitual residence, being the place where they had their central administration, was California. She identified the performance which was characteristic of each of the agreements as being Drive-Thru and War Road’s obligations to licence the exploitation of their portfolio works, to remaster and remix their recordings or the release new recordings, as the case may be, and (in the case of War Road) to sign up new bands; in contrast, Ditto’s only obligation was to pay money which was not the performance which was characteristic of the agreements.

Mr Kitson for Ditto [claimant] took issue with this. He pointed to the fact that Drive-Thru and War Road themselves contended in the New York proceedings that Ditto was in breach of its obligations (whether express or implied) under the agreements to take possession of the recordings and to distribute the same so as to earn royalties for the parties’ joint benefit. Thus, he argued, the performance characteristic of the agreement was not all on the side of Drive-Thru and War Road.

The reference to the arguments in the New York proceedings is interesting for it suggests ‘form’. However the judge agreed [58] with defendants that

these agreements are ones under which there were substantial performance obligations (other than simply the payment of money) on both sides. In reality, the agreements were joint ventures for the development and exploitation of Drive-Thru’s and War Road’s existing and future portfolio works for their mutual benefit. They are the type of agreements which Mann J refers to in his judgment in Apple Corps at paragraph 54 where it is not possible to identify a characteristic performance provided by one only of the parties.

Even the centre of gravity rule (recital 19, which the judge does not refer to) does not assist here hence the analysis needs to jump to A4(4)’s ‘proper law of the contract’ rule.  [59]

What then is the country or territorial unit with which the agreements are most closely connected? On the evidence before me, I am satisfied that it is the State of California. That was where Drive-Thru and War Road were based and where for the most part they would perform their obligations under the agreements. In contrast, Ditto’s own obligations relating to the digital distribution of the portfolio works were not ones which, on the evidence, fell to be performed in England to any particular extent, even if Ditto’s central administration was based in England. Instead, Ditto’s rights to exploitation of the portfolio works, and any corresponding obligations relating to the distribution of such works, were worldwide, reflecting the global reach of the Ditto Music brand.

Conclusion is that California law is the lex contractus.

The contractual gateway was however found to have been fulfilled on the basis of CPR PD6B paragraph 3.1 ‘contract made within the jurisdiction’. The judge finds that the contracts were ‘made’ both in CAL and in E&W [54] although he does lament [48] the artificial nature of the issue as the law currently stands: were contracts are ‘made’. I find this is especially relevant in a contemporary context of electronic correspondence, Zoom meetings and the like. Where a contract is ‘made’ seems fairly nugatory these days.

The tort gateway is discussed without reference to UKSC Brownlie for that was en route at the time of the discussions in current case. It is at any rate held to be met [[71] for claimant has quite clearly sustained damage in England as a result of the alleged misrepresentations.

At [72] ff follows an interesting, brief discussion on the location of intellectual property with finally the curtain drawn on English proceedings as a result of forum non [80 ff].



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