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Konangataa v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 21, 2017

KALI KONANGATAA, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC., et ano., Defendants KALI KONANGATAA, Plaintiff,
v.
NBCUNTVERSAL MEDIA, LLC, Defendant. KALI KONANGATAA, Plaintiff,
v.
COED MEDIA GROUP, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LEWIS A. KAPLAN UNITED SLATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         These previously dismissed copyright infringement actions are before the Court on defendants' joint motion for awards of attorneys' fees pursuant to Section 505 of the Copyright Act[1] and for sanctions pursuant to Section 1927 of the Judicial Code[2] and the inherent power of the Court.

         Facts

         As these cases all were determined on motions to dismiss the complaints pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) - motions on which the plaintiff was entitled to the assumption that the well pleaded factual allegations of the complaints are true - very little need be said about the facts. It suffices merely to quote from part of the defendants' brief summary[3] to provide the background for this ruling:

On May 16, 2016, Plaintiff publicly live-streamed on Facebook a 45-minute video of his partner giving birth to their child in a hospital delivery room (the "Video"). As of this filing the Video continues to be publicly available at httpsy/www.facebook.com/PolynesianNonprofit/videos/vb. 100001911004128/10 73990016008022/?type=2&theater. [citation omitted]. Defendants and other news outlets reported on the Video and offered social commentary about the phenomenon of someone publicly live-streaming a life event that traditionally is considered personal. Defendants used very brief excerpts of the Video in their news reports: 30 seconds for NBC, 22 seconds for ABC and Yahoo, and a mere screengrab for CMG.

         The Court notes also that the Video remains publicly available on Facebook as of this writing more than a full year after its live-streaming.[4]

         On February 23, 2017, this Court granted defendants' motions to dismiss from the bench on the ground that the uses complained of were fair uses. It stated:[5]

This was in each case a use squarely within the preambulatory portion of Section 107 of the Copyright Act, namely, criticism, comment, news reporting, which goes a significant part of the distance toward a conclusion of fair use. I believe the use was transformative. The amount and substantiality of the portions used in relation to the copyright work as a whole are very small in each case and, in the case of COED Media, trivial and de minimis for sure. And there are no plausible allegations that would permit a conclusion that the effect of the use on the part of any of the defendants had any effect on any potential market for or any value of the copyrighted work.

         Plaintiff did not appeal.

         Discussion

         Copyright Act Section 505

         Section 505 of the Copyright Act provides that:

In any civil action under this title, the court in its discretion may allow the recovery of full costs by or against any party other than the United States or an officer thereof Except as otherwise provided by this title, the court may also award a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party as part of the costs.

         Defendants were the prevailing parties in these actions. Awards of attorneys' fees therefore lie within the discretion of this Court. In exercising that discretion, courts consider "several nonexclusive factors" including"frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness, and the need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence."[6] An important consideration in deciding to award fees is that "fee awards under § 505 should encourage the types of lawsuits that promote" the purposes of the Copyright Act.[7] Thus, courts in making determinations under Section 505 must give appropriate regard to reaching results that would "encourage[] parties with strong legal positions to stand on their rights and deter[] those with weak ones from proceeding ...


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