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IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Chivalry Film Productions v. NBC Universal, Inc., et al., USDC S.D. New York

A district court granted the defendant motion picture studios’ request for attorney’s fees against a pro se plaintiff whose copyright infringement claims were objectively unreasonable. The court noted that the plaintiff’s status as a pro se plaintiff was not a sufficient basis for denying an award of attorney’s fees (“pro se litigants are held to the same standards of conduct and procedure as an attorney”), although it could be considered when the court determined the amount of the fees.

The plaintiff filed suit against motion picture studios and distribution companies, claiming that the films Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers infringed his copyrights. The district court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment because no reasonable trier of fact could find the works substantially similar, “the works at issue could not be more different in total concept and feel,” and plaintiff’s arguments to the contrary were wholly specious, masking the striking difference between the works. In fact, the works were “so extraordinarily different” that plaintiff based his copyright claim principally on the absence of similarity, alleging that “defendants blatantly went through extremes in revisions and manipulation in an attempt to conceal and subterfuge said crime by revising said screenplay.” Defendants had also established an independent source for their films that pre-dated plaintiff’s copyrights.

Defendants subsequently requested attorney’s fees and costs. The district court explained that, while there is no precise formula for determining whether an award of fees is appropriate, courts consider the equitable factors of frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness and the need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence. The district court agreed with defendants that plaintiff’s claims were objectively unreasonable and wrote that the need for deterrence against objectively unreasonable copyright claims is significant because the denial of an award of attorney’s fees in such cases fails to protect the owners of valid copyrights from the cost of frivolous litigation.

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