Earlier this year, we brought to you the story of one man's quest to sue all of the news organizations for using a clip of his Facebook video in which his partner is giving birth to his child. Kali Kanongataa sued ABC, NBC, Yahoo, CBS, Microsoft, Rodale and COED Media Group for reporting on the video and showing a clip of it, claiming copyright infringement. It was an odd claim for many reasons, not the least of which being that Kanongataa made the stream public and available on his Facebook page, not to mention the obvious Fair Use case to be made by the news groups reporting on the matter. The suits didn't work, of course, with most or all of them having now been dismissed.
But that wasn't the end of the story for Kanongataa and his crack legal team that saw fit to entertain this frivolity. The judge in the case, Lewis Kaplan, decided to verbally light his lawyers on fire when assessing Kanongataa to pay legal fees to the defendants.
No reasonable lawyer with any familiarity with the law of copyright could have thought that the fleeting and minimal uses, in the context of news reporting and social commentary, that these defendants made of tiny portions of the 45-minute video was anything but fair.
That's a fairly damning statement on the court records for the legal staff of Kanongataa, though it stopped short of sanctioning them. Instead, Kanongataa's lawyers will have managed to get him saddled with these court fees by entertaining this litigious nonsense. Judge Kaplan goes on to state that the case was frivolous and that these fee assessments should serve as a good deterrent in order to "better serve the purposes of the Copyright Act." That purpose is not to reward people who see a payday in the form of plainly Fair Use reporting. And we're not talking about pennies in legal fees, either.
Hence, the media outlets that were on the receiving end of the lawsuit are entitled to recover what may amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs. Kanongataa's lawyers from New York—Yekaterina Tsyvkin and Richard Liebowitz—did not immediately respond for comment. The judge gave the media companies three weeks to say how much they think they should be awarded in costs associated with defending the lawsuit.
Big dollars, yes, but that's warranted to keep this sort of thing from regularly mucking up the court docket. Copyright's purpose isn't a get rich quick scheme.