United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
March 17, 2004.
MICHAEL A. LOWE, Plaintiff,
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
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
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.
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
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.
A. Attorney Fees and Costs Under the Copyright
"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
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).
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.
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
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
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
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
$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
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.
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.