First Circuit Upholds Attorney Fee Award Much Higher Than Copyright Damages

Pink Piggy Bank On Top Of A Pile Of One Dollar Bills
Creative Commons License photo credit: kenteegardin

On July 5, the First Circuit, in the appeal of Spooner v. EEN, upheld a district court’s award of attorneys’ fees against a willful infringer.  Although the amount of the fee award, just under $100,000 for a case that went all the way through trial, does not seem very high.  The defendant, however, argued that the award was excessive because the plaintiff was only awarded $10,000 in statutory damages.  The First Circuit rejected this argument, holding that there is no strict proportionality requirement for fee awards.  The court also pointed out that often times in copyright cases the non-monetary relief is more valuable than the damages awarded, and that such value must be taken into account.  The court noted that the plaintiff had carefully reduced its overall fees to account for work done against other defendants (which settled before trial) and for various unsuccessful motions filed by the plaintiff. I think the bottom line here is that if you are guilty of willful infringement and force a copyright owner to litigate a case with minimal actual damages all the way through trial, you cannot try to render the victory pyrrhic by avoiding reimbursement of the plaintiff’s legitimate attorney’s fees.  At least not in the First Circuit.   Here is the opinion: