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You’ve Gotta “Fight for Your Right” to Attorneys’ Fees but Block Billing, Vagueness, and Duplicate Work Can “Sabotage” those Efforts

After almost four years subsequent to the initial filing of this copyright infringement action, the court addressed defendants’ motion for attorneys’ fees and costs. TufAmerica, Inc. v. Diamond 2006 WL 1029553 (S.D.N.Y. March 9, 2016). The court had previously granted defendants’ motion to dismiss for four claims and granted their motion for summary judgment for the remaining claims. Although the defendants (consisting of the Beastie Boys, Universal-Polygram International Publishing, and Capitol Records) prevailed in this high-profile sampling case, the court acknowledged that this does not necessarily mean that they would be entitled to attorneys’ fees under Section 505 of the Copyright Act. The main issue of the action revolved around the plaintiff’s standing to enforce the copyright in question. Because it was found that one co-owner of the copyright was not a signatory to a contract seeming to convey an exclusive license to the plaintiff, it was determined that the plaintiff was not an exclusive license holder and, therefore, could not sue. The substantive issue of whether there was actual infringement was never even reached.

Nonetheless, the court proceeded to find that an important purpose of the Copyright Act is to deter lawsuits where the chain of title has not even been inspected before such litigation is commenced unnecessarily. Therefore, defendants, as the prevailing party, would be entitled to attorneys’ fees. However, upon examination, the court did find that not all of the fees requested were reasonable. First, the Beastie Boys sought compensation for 1,155.4 hours of work performed by the Sheppard Mullin firm. Plaintiff argued that the time records were riddled with block billing and vague entries. The court acknowledged that the entries lacked detail (e.g. a two-hour entry that read “Reviewed case status. Prepared for meeting with Ted Max”) and gave a 5% reduction for these. Second, the other defendants sought reimbursement of 464.6 hours of attorneys’ fees by Jenner & Block. Many of these entries had even less detail (e.g. seven entries simply stating “Emails”) so the court deducted 10%. Lastly, the court reduced the hours of each law firm by 5% (for a total of 10%) due to duplication of work and inefficiencies caused by the two firms both handling the case.

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