Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: June 16, 2016
  • Case #: 15–375
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: KAGAN. JJ, delivered the opinion of a unanimous Court
  • Full Text Opinion

When granting attorney fees in a copyright infringement case, a district court may examine the objective reasonableness of the losing party’s claim because doing so is in keeping with the legislative purpose of §505 of the U.S. Copyright Act.

This is a case about whether a district court, when determining the amount of attorney fees to be awarded to the winning party under Section 505 of the U.S. Copyright Act, should consider the objective reasonableness of the losing party’s position and, if the losing party’s claim is found to be reasonable, adjust the amount of attorney fee’s accordingly. After prevailing on a copyright infringement claim under §505, Petitioner sought more than $2 million in attorney’s fees from the Respondent at the district court level. The district court denied the award, basing its decision partly on Second Circuit precedent and partly on the conclusion that the losing party's copyright infringement claim had been objectively reasonable. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Relying on the Court’s holding in Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U. S. 517 (1994), a unanimous Supreme Court held that §505 gives district courts broad discretion when awarding attorney fee’s in copyright infringement cases. Because the purpose of the U.S. Copyright Act is to protect original artistic creation while simultaneously facilitating commerce, the Court found that the legislative intent is best upheld when district courts choose whether or not to award attorney fees based on the objective reasonableness of the losing party’s claim. The Court reasoned that this standard will both encourage plaintiff’s to bring claims and defendants to dispute them at trial. VACATED and REMANDED.

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