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Copyright Litigation: Attorneys’ Fees

Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a very important decision regarding attorneys’ fees and copyright litigation. The decision was issued in the case of Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, a copyright dispute that has been ongoing for several years. This decision clarifies the fee-shifting standard included in the Copyright Act. It could have major ramifications for many future copyright disputes.

Case Analysis: Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons (2013)

Supap Kirtsaeng, originally came to the United States in the late 1990s. When he arrived to study at Cornell University, he immediately noticed that textbooks were far more expensive here than they were in his native country of Thailand. He viewed this difference as a potential opportunity to make money. Mr. Kirtsaeng purchased many books in Thailand, shipped them to the United States, and then sold them on EBay and other third party websites. In all, it was alleged that he made more than $1 million in profits. Eventually, his unique business model resulted in a lawsuit. John Wiley & Sons, a publically traded publishing company, brought a copyright infringement claim against Mr. Kirtsaeng. In 2013, the Supreme Court took on this initial case. In a 6-3 decision, the court found in favor of Mr. Kirtsaeng. The court determined that the re-sale of the books did not violate United States copyright law because of legal theory known as the ‘first-sale doctrine’. This doctrine limits the rights of copyright owners in certain situations. Specifically, it allows individuals to legally re-sell items in secondary markets. This decision affirmed that goods purchased internationally are also entitled to this same level of legal protection.

Case Analysis: Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons (2016)

This same dispute found its way back to the Supreme Court this year in order to deal with the issue of attorneys’ fees. In the majority of legal disputes, each side is responsible for their own legal costs. However, for actions brought under the Copyright Act, judges may be able to award the prevailing party reasonable attorneys’ fees. Though he made the argument that he should have been entitled to attorneys’ fees, Mr. Kirtsaeng was not awarded any attorneys’ fees by the lower courts. Once again, he appealed to the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court agreed that he should have another opportunity to make his case to the lower court. This time with a clarified standard of the Copyright Act’s fee-shifting provision. Specifically the Supreme Court held that:

  • When assessing fee shifting, substantial weight should be given to the reasonableness of the losing party’s legal argument; but
  • No presumption of reasonableness should be granted to the losing party’s position.

Contact Our Office Today

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our West Palm Beach copyright litigation attorneys have extensive experience handling a wide variety of copyright issues. If you are involved in a copyright dispute, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team today. We will review your case free of charge. Our firm represents businesses and individuals throughout South Florida, including in Boca Raton and Coral Springs.

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