Fogerty v. Fantasy
|Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc.|
|Argued December 8, 1993
Decided March 1, 1994
|Full case name||John Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc.|
|Citations||510 U.S. 517 (more)|
|Prior history||984 F.2d 1524 (9th Cir. 1993)|
|In copyright suits, prevailing defendants receive attorney's fees solely at the court's discretion, just as prevailing plaintiffs do.|
|Majority||Rehnquist, joined by Blackmun, Stevens, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg|
|17 U.S.C. § 505|
Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994), was a U.S. Supreme Court case that elaborated the standards that should factor into a district court's decision to award attorney's fees in copyright litigation. In general, American courts have discretion to award attorney's fees to "prevailing parties" in order to provide a financial incentive to individuals who otherwise could not afford to enforce their rights in court and to deter the bringing of frivolous lawsuits. Fogerty applied these general principles to copyright infringement lawsuits.
John Fogerty was the lead singer of the popular rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR). In 1970, as part of CCR, he wrote "Run Through the Jungle," to which Fantasy, Inc., eventually acquired the exclusive publishing rights. CCR disbanded in 1972, and Fogerty began a solo career with another music label. In 1985, Fogerty published "The Old Man Down the Road", which he released on Warner Bros. Records. Fantasy sued Fogerty for copyright infringement (Fantasy, Inc. v. Fogerty), claiming that "The Old Man Down the Road" was simply "Run Through the Jungle" with new words. A jury found in favor of Fogerty, and he sought attorney's fees as provided by the Copyright Act of 1976. The district court denied Fogerty's request, concluding that Fantasy had not brought its suit in bad faith and that it was not frivolous. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, refusing to abandon its differing standards for successful defendants who sought attorney's fees in copyright cases than for successful plaintiffs. Under this double standard, prevailing plaintiffs generally obtained attorney's fees as a matter of course, while prevailing defendants had to show that the original suit was frivolous and brought in bad faith. Because other courts of appeals did not have double standards for awarding attorney's fees in this context, the Supreme Court agreed to review the Ninth Circuit's decision.
The 1976 copyright act allows district courts in their discretion to award "a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party as part of the costs" it may otherwise award. Fantasy pointed out that the Court had held that identical language in Title VII supported a similar double standard for awarding attorney's fees to prevailing parties in Title VII cases, with prevailing plaintiffs recovering as a matter of course and prevailing defendants not recovering. But the Court read the language in the analogous section of Title VII as evidence of Congress's decision to convert the civil rights plaintiff into a "private attorney general" who was enforcing the statutory scheme.
By contrast, the legislative history of the Copyright Act does not suggest that Congress intended to afford similar rights to persons whose copyrights have been infringed. Civil rights plaintiffs are frequently without means, whereas civil rights defendants are typically large companies. Awarding attorney's fees to prevailing plaintiffs but not prevailing defendants helps to redress this imbalance. The primary objective of the Copyright Act is to "encourage the production of original literary, artistic, and musical expression for the good of the public." Parties who seek to enforce their copyrights "run the gamut from corporate behemoths to starving artists," just as copyright defendants are equally likely to be wealthy or poor. Thus, there is less of a need to provide an economic incentive to individuals in order for there to be adequate enforcement of the copyright law.
Furthermore, preventing infringement is not the sole goal of the copyright law. To be sure, it is one goal, but it is not the only one, nor even the most important. "Creative work is to be encouraged and rewarded, but private motivation must ultimately serve the cause of promoting broad public availability of literature, music, and the other arts. The immediate effect of our copyright law is to secure a fair return for an author's creative labor. But the ultimate aim is, by this incentive, to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good." For this reason, it is just as important to encourage the litigation of meritorious defenses to copyright as it is to encourage the litigation of infringement cases in the first place.
However, the fact that district courts have discretion to award attorney's fees does not mean that they should be awarding attorney's fees routinely. In the United States, unlike in the United Kingdom, parties typically bear their own costs of litigation. But the statute merely confers discretion on district courts to award attorney's fees, not a requirement that they do so in the typical copyright suit. If Congress had intended for attorney's fees to be virtually mandatory, it would have written the statute differently and studied it extensively in light of American practice.
Justice Thomas argued that, consistent with the statutory language, district courts should have discretion to award attorney's fees to both prevailing plaintiffs and prevailing defendants not only in copyright cases but also in Title VII cases. Because the Court had previously adopted a double standard in Title VII cases, Justice Thomas argued that the Court should overrule its cases setting forth the different standard for attorney's fees in Title VII cases.
- List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 510
- List of United States Supreme Court cases
- Lists of United States Supreme Court cases by volume
- List of United States Supreme Court cases by the Rehnquist Court
- Text of the opinion, LII, Cornell University
- Text of the opinion, findlaw.com
- MP3 file of oral argument, OYEZ project
- Information on copyright law, Stanford University
- Detailed article re original copyright trial