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LOWE v. LOUD RECORDS

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


March 17, 2004.

MICHAEL A. LOWE, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUD RECORDS, SCOTT STORCH, ALVIN NATHANIEL JOINER p/k/a XZIBIT, HENNESY FOR EVERYONE MUSIC, ANDRE YOUNG p/k/a DR. DRE, AIN'T NUTHIN' GOIN' ON BUT FUNKIN' MUSIC, MELVIN F. BRADFORD, HARD WORKIN' BLACK FOLKS MUSIC, COLUMBIA RECORDS, INC. and VOCO MUSIC d/b/a ALEXRA MUSIC, Defendants

The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KELLY, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Michael A. Lowe ("Lowe") brought a copyright infringement and negligence action against Defendants Loud Records, Alvin Nathanial Joiner p/k/a/ Xzibit, Hennesy for Everyone Music, Andre Young ("Young") p/k/a/ Dr. Dre, Ain't Nuthin' But Funkin' Music, Melvin F. Bradford, Hard Workin' Black Folks Music, Columbia Records, Inc., Voco. Music d/b/a/ Alexra Music (collectively referred to as "California Defendants") and Scott Storch ("Storch"). The Court granted the Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment pertaining to Lowe's copyright infringement claim finding that Lowe defeated his claim based upon his deposition testimony and affidavit. As for Lowe's state law negligence claim, the Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and dismissed the claim without prejudice. Young has filed a Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and a Bill of Costs Page 2 pursuant to the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 505.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, Young's Motion for Attorneys' Fees, as well as his Bill of Costs, are granted.

I. BACKGROUND

  The factual background and procedural history of this case can be found in this Court's prior Memorandum Opinion filed November 20, 2003. Accordingly, the Court finds no reason to reiterate them here except to state that this action stems from Lowe's claim that he wrote the musical composition entitled "West Coast (Dre Beat)" (hereinafter referred to as "West Coast Beat"). Lowe asserted that "West Coast Beat" is the underlying musical composition of "X," a rap song in which all of the Defendants played a part in creating, i.e., performing, writing, producing, etc. Lowe, who owns and controls the copyrights for "West Coast Beat," alleged that his music copyrights were violated by all of the Defendants through their use of "West Coast Beat" in "X" without his knowledge or permission.

  Regarding Lowe's copyright infringement claim, summary judgment was granted in Defendants' favor based upon the premise that Lowe defeated his own claim. The Court concluded that Lowe's copyright infringement claim could not prevail because his deposition testimony and subsequent affidavit showed that he granted Defendants a nonexclusive license to use "West Coast Beat" in one of their musical compositions. It was found that Lowe's version of the facts declaring that Page 3 he granted Defendants a nonexclusive license directly contradicted the basis of his copyright infringement claim, that the Defendants used "West Coast Beat" without his knowledge or permission. Based upon various statements and actions made by Lowe pertaining to his alleged granting of an implied license, the Court found that he was left without a viable claim for copyright infringement. The Court noted that it could not allow the copyright infringement case to go forward, when it was clear that Lowe's claims against the Defendants could be more appropriately addressed in another type of action than one for copyright infringement. As such, Lowe's copyright infringement claim was dismissed because his own version of the facts precluded a finding that the Defendants could be liable for copyright infringement. Due to the dismissal of the copyright infringement claim, the only claim justifying federal jurisdiction, the Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Lowe's negligence claim. Accordingly, Lowe's negligence claim was dismissed without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. Attorney Fees and Costs Under the Copyright Act

  "Under § 505 of the Copyright Act, the court has the discretion to award attorneys fees and costs to a prevailing party in a claim brought under the Copyright Act." Don Post Studios, Inc. v. Cinema Secrets, Inc., 148 F. Supp.2d 572, 573 (E.D. Pa. 2001)(citing 17 U.S.C. § 505). The Copyright Act provides, in pertinent part, that "[i]n any civil action under this title, the court in its discretion may allow the recovery of full costs by or against any party. . . . [T]he court may also award a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party as part of the costs." 17 U.S.C. § 505. "A district court is entrusted with considerable discretion to determine whether an award should be granted to the Page 4 prevailing party, and, if so, whether the amount requested is reasonable under the circumstances." Cottrill v. Spears, No. 02-3646, 2003 WL 21545105, at *1 (E.D. Pa. July 2, 2003)(citing Lieb v. Topstone Indus., Inc., 788 F.2d 151, 155-56 (3d Cir. 1986)).

  Under the Copyright Act, a court's exercise of discretion in determining whether to award attorneys' fees and costs should be employed within certain boundaries. Lieb, 788 F.2d at 156. Namely, an award of attorneys' fees and costs is not mandated in every case, but lies within the discretion of the court. Id. Also, there is no requirement of bad faith in determining whether to award attorneys' fees and costs. Id. Lastly, in making its determination, the court's exercise of discretion should be approached in an evenhanded manner. Id. In addition to the aforementioned boundaries, certain nonexclusive factors also should be considered in determining whether an award of attorneys' fees and costs is appropriate. Id. "These factors include `frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness (both in the factual and in the legal components of the case) and the need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence.'" Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517, 535 n.19 (quoting Lieb, 788 F.2d at 156). Notably, "such factors may be used to guide [a] court's discretion, so long as such factors are faithful to the purposes of the Copyright Act." Id. "The primary objective of copyright is to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts. To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work." Cottrill, 2003 WL 21545105, at *1 (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted). "Copyright law ultimately serves the purpose of enriching the general public through access to creative works." Id. (quoting Fogerty, 510 U.S. at 527)(internal quotation marks omitted). Page 5

  Once a court concludes that an award of attorneys' fees and costs is appropriate, it must go on to ascertain the issue of reasonableness. Lieb, 788 F.2d at 156. That is, a court must determine what amount of fees and costs is reasonable under the circumstances of the case. Id. When determining the issue of reasonableness, the following nonexclusive factors should be considered: the relative complexity of the litigation; the relative financial strength of the parties; damages; and the culpability of the [parties'] conduct. Id.

  B. Court's Analysis

  Young, as the prevailing party on the copyright infringement claim, asserts that he is entitled to attorneys' fees in the amount of $64,992.50, as well as costs totaling $8,569.94, that he incurred as a result of successfully defending against Lowe's copyright infringement claim.*fn2 Young argues that Lowe's own testimony established that his claims had no merit, and, based on his own knowledge and testimony that preceded the litigation, Lowe proved the facts that showed his claims to be objectively unreasonable. Regarding the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees totaling $64,992.50, Young argues that such amount is reasonable because he was responsible for the defense of each of the nine California Defendants herein other than Storch. Thus, the attorneys' fees incurred by Young were less than the fees would have been if the California Defendants each retained separate counsel to Page 6 represent them in this action. Additionally, Young argues that the attorneys' fees are reasonable in light of the extensive discovery conducted in this litigation which included travel between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Los Angeles, California.

  In Lowe's Response to Young's Itemization of Attorneys' Fees, he claims that Young is entitled to no more than $23,454. (Pl.'s Resp. Def. Young's Item. Att'y Fees at 2-3). Lowe argues that the evidentiary record in this case establishes the existence of common law claims including, but not limited to, negligence, breach of contract, fraud, bad faith and conversion.*fn3 As such, Lowe asserts that only the portion of Young's attorneys' fees which dealt with the pursuit of the summary judgment motion regarding his copyright infringement claim should be awarded because they were the only fees incurred in furtherance of the purposes of the Copyright Act. Thus, Lowe does not challenge the appropriateness of the amount of $23,454 in attorneys' fees which were incurred regarding the copyright infringement claim, but argues against awarding the full amount of attorneys' fees expended in the action. Regarding Young's Bill of Costs in the amount of $8,569.94, Lowe fails to address or Page 7 respond to the costs in anyway.

  1. Entitlement to Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs

  After considering the parties' arguments, as well as the factual and legal history of the case, I conclude that Young is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees and costs. Upon viewing the circumstances of the instant action in conjunction with the factors of frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness of the factual and legal components of the case, compensation and deterrence, I find that an award of attorneys' fees and costs is appropriate. As explained earlier, summary judgment was granted based upon Lowe's own testimony and affidavit which revealed that he defeated his claim of copyright infringement by granting the Defendants a nonexclusive license to use "West Coast Beat" in one of their musical compositions. In light of Lowe defeating his own claim, it appears that the factual and legal components of Lowe's copyright infringement claim were objectively unreasonable and, it can be argued, frivolous. Since Lowe's copyright infringement claim was factually and legally unreasonable, Young should be compensated for the money he expended on defending himself against an erroneous claim. Also, the award of fees and costs may deter the filing of future frivolous copyright infringement claims which, although unreasonable, cost money and time to successfully defend. As a result, Young is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees and costs.

  2. Reasonableness of Attorneys' Fees and Costs

  After examination of the attorneys' fees in conjunction with the reasonableness factors regarding the complexity of the case, the parties' relative financial strength, damages and the culpability of the parties' conduct, I conclude that Young is entitled to $26,609.40 in attorneys' fees. In my discretion, I have determined that Young is entitled to the attorneys' fees spent regarding Lowe's Page 8 copyright infringement claim. I find that granting Young the amount that he specifically spent defending against Lowe's unreasonable copyright infringement claim best serves the purpose of the Copyright Act. Fogerty, 510 U.S. at 535 n.19.

  In order to ascertain the amount of fees owed to Young, the Court has analyzed the Itemization of Attorneys' Fees and determined which fees were expended toward Lowe's copyright infringement claim. In so doing, I determine that Young is entitled to payment of the fees he incurred for the efforts of Howard King, Esq. ("King") totaling $11,062.50. As for the fees of Stephen D. Rothschild, Esq. ("Rothschild"), Young is entitled to payment in the amount of $13,645. Young's Itemization also includes $5,005 in fees for work performed by Naomi Simmons ("Simmons"), a paralegal who worked on Lowe's case.*fn4 In my discretion, I have decided to award Young the fees he expended for Simmons' work. The Itemization does not explicitly set forth whether Simmons performed work regarding the copyright infringement claim, however, she appears to have been primarily involved in the discovery of the case. Since it cannot be specifically deciphered what amount of Simmons' fees were expended on the copyright claim, I have concluded that Young is entitled to thirty-eight percent of Simmons' fees. The thirty-eight percent figure is premised upon the calculation that the aggregate sum of fees incurred for the representation of King and Rothschild regarding Lowe's copyright infringement claim amounted to approximately thirty-eight percent of the total attorneys' fees figure of $64,992.50. Thus, in the interest of fairness, I prescribe that Young is entitled to an award of Page 9 $1,901.90, or thirty-eight percent of the $5,005 paid in fees to Simmons. The aggregate total of all of the fees reasonably expended to defend against Lowe's copyright infringement claim amounts to $26,609.40. Thus, Young is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees in the sum of $26,609.40.

  Upon review of Young's Bill of Costs, which Lowe did not respond, I conclude that the costs are reasonable. Examination of the costs in combination with the relevant reasonableness factors leads me to conclude that the amount of $8,569.94 is reasonable under the circumstances of this case. In light of my assessment that Young's costs are reasonable, and since Lowe neither contested the costs nor their reasonableness, Young is entitled to his costs in the amount of $8,569.94.

  III. CONCLUSION

  Under the circumstances of this case, Young is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees and costs. Since Lowe's copyright infringement claim was factually and legally unreasonable, Young should be compensated for the fees and costs that he expended to defend against the erroneous claim. Regarding the amount of attorneys' fees, I have determined that a reasonable amount in this particular case is $26,609.40. As for the award of costs, I find that the sum of $8,569.94 is reasonable.

  An appropriate Order follows.

  ORDER


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