USDC S.D. New York, January 7, 2009

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The district court awarded $50,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to prevailing defendants, finding that plaintiffs’ pursuit of their copyright infringement claim after receiving defendants’ evidence of prior independent creation was objectively unreasonable.

Plaintiffs claimed that defendants’ reality TV show Project Runway infringed their copyright in a treatment for a reality show titled American Runway. Plaintiffs and their counsel repeatedly represented at court conferences that they would withdraw their copyright claim if defendants’ documents showed that Project Runway was independently created.

On or about July 28, 2006, defendants provided to plaintiffs a Project Runway treatment that a writer had revised and emailed to Miramax on April 8, 2003. According to the court, “this document alone was clear evidence that Project Runway was a complete concept at least one month before plaintiffs allege that defendants had access to plaintiffs’ treatment in May, 2003.” Nevertheless, plaintiffs did not withdraw their claims and the court eventually granted summary judgment for defendants on the issue of, inter alia, independent creation. (We summarized the summary judgment decision in October, 2008).

On defendants’ unopposed motion for attorneys’ fees, the court held that defendants’ April 8, 2003, treatment “made it abundantly clear that defendants had independently created Project Runway prior to the time plaintiffs claim defendants had access to plaintiffs’ treatment. Continuing past that date was objectively unreasonable.”

The court ordered plaintiffs to pay a portion of defendants’ attorneys’ fees and costs incurred after July 28, 2006. After finding defendants’ attorneys’ rates and hours to be reasonable, the court went on to reduce the fee award to $50,000 due to the relative wealth of the plaintiffs (individuals) and the defendants (major corporations and individuals of “extravagant means”).