The U.S. Supreme Court issued its first copyright decision in nearly two years on Thursday, weighing in on the tricky question of when prevailing parties should be able to recoup their attorneys’ fees from the losing side.
The decision came in the case of Supap Kirtsaeng, who appealed to the justices after he was refused more than $2 million in court fees he had spent fighting an infringement lawsuit filed against him by publishing giant John Wiley & Sons Inc. — a suit he eventually beat in a previous trip to the high court.
The Copyright Act’s Section 505 says a district court “in its discretion may allow the recovery of full costs” by prevailing litigants, but judges haven’t exactly interpreted the provision uniformly since the Supreme Court last ruled on it in 1994.
The Second Circuit, on the other end of the spectrum, took one of those factors, objective unreasonableness, and made it first-among-equals.
In that messy context, Thursday’s opinion is welcome guidance for many copyright attorneys.
“It might not be a bright-line rule, but it certainly offers practitioners more guidance when talking with our clients about the cost-benefit analysis,” said James Donoian, a partner with McCarter & English LLP.