Supreme Court weighs in on standard for attorneys’ fees in Copyright cases

This entry is a follow up to a previous blog article that discussed the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case of Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2016 WL 205944 (Jan. 15, 2016), which sought determination of the proper standard for attorneys’ fees awards in copyright cases. Recently, the Supreme Court entered a decision in this case setting forth specific guidelines.[1] Specifically, the Supreme Court found that when deciding to award attorneys’ fees under the Copyright Act, the district court should give substantial weight to the objective reasonableness of the non-prevailing party’s position.[2] The Supreme Court also found that all other circumstances relevant to granting attorneys’ fees must still be taken into consideration as objective reasonableness should not be the only consideration.[3] Thus, a district court would retain discretion, in light of such factors, to enter an award of attorneys’ fees even if the non-prevailing party advanced a reasonable position.[4] Other guidance that comes from the Supreme Court’s decision is confirmation of the principles that while a district court has discretion to award attorneys’ fees they are not to be ordered as a matter of course and that prevailing plaintiffs and defendants may not be treated differently.[5]

The Supreme Court supported its holding by noting that its approach “both encourages parties with strong legal positions to stand on their rights and deters those with weak ones from proceedings with litigation.”[6] Further, the Supreme Court noted that a “district court that has ruled on the merits of a copyright case can easily access whether the losing party advanced an unreasonable claim or defense,” since the judge will assess the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s positions when deciding the case.[7] As a result, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the District Court so that the District Court can determine whether an attorneys’ fees award is proper under the standards set forth in the Supreme Court’s decision.[8] These standards must now be considered in any decision by a Plaintiff or Defendant to continue to litigate a lawsuit or otherwise attempt to settle.

Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding the information in this article.

Daniel Devine, Esq.
Santucci Priore, P.L.

[1] See, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., No. 15-375 (Jun. 16, 2016), the discussion on which can be found at
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.

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