The Supreme Court recently weighed in on certain copyright infringement issues that have long been unsettled in American law. First, the Court ruled that the resale of foreign-manufactured books in the United States does not violate the “first-sale” provision. In a second related lawsuit, the Court found that the award of attorneys’ fees to the reseller was appropriate. The case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., has important implications for intellectual property litigants, because it clearly sets forth the factors courts must consider in determining whether to award attorneys’ fees to a prevailing party.
The case arose when Kirtsaeng instructed family and friends living in Thailand to purchase copies of John Wiley & Sons’ books and ship them back to him in the United States. The books were priced substantially less in Thailand than in the U.S., so Kirtsaeng resold them for a profit. Wiley then sued him for copyright infringement.
The lawsuit alleged that Kirtsaeng infringed Wiley’s right to exclusive distribution under Section 106(3) of the Copyright Act. Kirtsaeng claimed that his purchases and resales were protected under the “first-sale” provision. Wiley’s rebuttal that the provision does not apply to books manufactured abroad was not accepted by the Court, who ruled in favor of Kirtsaeng.
In a second round of litigation arising out of the same set of facts, Kirtsaeng argued that he was entitled to attorneys’ fees under the Copyright Act’s discretionary fee shifting provision, which allows a court to award reasonable attorneys’ fees to a prevailing party. Author of the opinion, Justice Kagan, stated that payment of attorneys’ fees is important to uphold the intent behind the copyright act, which aims to enrich the general public through access to creative works.
Kagan stated that the reasonableness of the losing party’s position should be taken into account in awarding attorneys’ fees, along with other so-called “Fogerty factors,” including:
- The frivolousness of the losing party’s position.
- The losing party’s motivation for bringing the suit.
- Objective unreasonableness of the losing party’s claim.
- The need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deference.
This decision is important for any intellectual property litigant for many reasons, one being that it can help inform a decision whether to settle and for how much. For example, if a litigant’s claim is weak, knowing that going to trial could result in having to pay attorneys’ fees should serve to encourage settlement.
Philadelphia Business Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Have Extensive Experience in All Aspects of Business Litigation
Philadelphia business lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. have extensive experience in all types of business tort litigation, including complex copyright infringement matters. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia, we represent businesses throughout Pennsylvania and South Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 215-574-0600 or contact us online today.