District court awards defendants attorneys’ fees for successful defense, finding plaintiff’s claims were unreasonable in light of the dissimilarity of the two works, and the unreasonableness alone supported an award of attorneys’ fees.
Following the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiff’s claims of copyright infringement, holding that defendants had not copied any protectable elements of plaintiff’s graphic work "Treacherous" in designs on clothing that they sold, defendants moved for attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party under the Copyright Act. The court granted the motion.
Under the Copyright Act, the court may, in its discretion, award a reasonable attorneys’ fee to the prevailing party. The court may consider a number of factors in determining whether to award attorneys’ fees, including, but not limited to, the degree of success attained, the non-prevailing party's objective unreasonableness, the non-prevailing party's frivolousness or motivation, and the considerations of compensation or deterrence. The district court concluded that an analysis of the various factors supported an award of attorneys’ fees to defendants.
Defendants had prevailed on a motion for summary judgment and had achieved a complete success, securing the dismissal of plaintiff’s copyright claims with prejudice, on the merits. Acknowledging that it had not found plaintiff’s claims frivolous or motivated by bad faith, the court concluded that they were unreasonable in light of the dissimilarity of the two works at issue and that this unreasonableness alone supported an award of attorneys’ fees. The court also found that considerations of compensation and deterrence weighed in favor of awarding defendants attorneys’ fees: “While a prevailing plaintiff is compensated for victory through money damages or equitable remedies, prevailing defendants are left having expended funds, even in defense of unmeritorious claims.” Finding their fee request reasonable, the court awarded defendants $139,610.10.