Richard Liebowitz is an American lawyer and photographer specializing in copyright law. He is known for filing a high number of lawsuits against media organizations on behalf of photographers who assert that their images have been used without permission. This practice has polarized the U.S. media industry. Liebowitz has been sanctioned and labeled a "copyright troll" by courts for his conduct.
Life and career
A Long Island native, Liebowitz worked as an intern for veteran New York press photographer Bruce Cotler. His experience with Cotler, about which he wrote a book, and as a member of the New York Press Photographers Association motivated Liebowitz to pursue a career in copyright law.
After graduating from Hofstra University Law School, he was admitted to the New York bar in 2015, established his practice in New York and filed his first lawsuit in January 2016. He works on a contingency basis and has filed, on average, about five lawsuits per week. Contrary to other copyright lawyers, his practice is to immediately file suit rather than pursue a settlement, and to claim statutory damages far in excess of the images' ordinary licensing prices.
Liebowitz's approach to copyright litigation earned him a reputation as "the scourge of the media industry (...) and the salvation of the underpaid photographer", according to Slate. Media organizations and their lawyers have asserted that Liebowitz is abusing the legal system by overloading the courts with dubious cases in which he attempts to leverage mistakes by overworked editorial staff into financial windfalls.
For his part, Liebowitz has argued that copyright law is the only tool that photographers have to protect their rights and livelihood in a digital media environment in which images are often reused without regard to proper licensing. However, in one case, a client was forced to repay $120,000 in legal bills to several media outlets Liebowitz sued on his behalf.
Courts have repeatedly disapproved of Liebowitz's approach to legal practice and imposed sanctions on him or his clients. In one case, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ordered Liebowitz's client to pay the defendant's legal fees for what the judge considered "frivolous litigation", and in another, Judge Denise Cote determined that Liebowitz was a "copyright troll", fined him and imposed ethics classes on him.
In 2019 a judge observed that "there is a growing body of law in this District" – the Southern District of New York – "devoted to the question of whether and when to impose sanctions on Mr. Liebowitz". In September 2019, Liebowitz was held in contempt of court by Judge Cathy Seibel for lying about the date of his grandfather’s death in an attempt to excuse his failure to attend court.
In June 2020 Judge Furman concluded in a 61-page opinion and order that Lebowitz "lied about his compliance with a court Order",:2 "repeated that lie, over and over",:2 "violated at least six of the Court’s Orders",:26 and wrote that "there may be no sanction short of disbarment that would stop Mr. Liebowitz from further misconduct.":46 The judge ordered that Liebowitz pay $103,517.49 in sanctions, that Liebowitz give a copy of the opinion to all of his clients, and that Liebowitz file a copy of the opinion in all of his open cases.:54 The judge also sent the opinion to the Grievance Committee for potential disbarment.:54 On November 30, 2020, the Grievance Committee of the Southern District of New York suspended him from the practice of law in the district, pending the outcome of his disciplinary charges.
- Cullins, Ashley (6 April 2018). "Has This Man Sued You? A "Copyright Troll" Takes on Hollywood". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- Peters, Justin (24 May 2018). "Why Every Media Company Fears This Guy". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- Donahue, Bill (July 10, 2019). "Litigious Copyright Atty Hit With Latest Sanctions". Law360.
- Liebowitz, Richard P. (2006). Apprentice!: a teen learns lessons on the frontlines of life. New York, NY: New Voices Press. ISBN 978-0974810348.
- Donahue, Bill (October 5, 2017). "Facebook Dad Faces Big Fine Over Failed Copyright Suits". Law360.
- Masnick, Mike (November 25, 2019). "Richard Liebowitz Is Wrong On So Many Levels, And Is In Trouble Yet Again". Tech Dirt. Retrieved June 19, 2020.
- Masnick, Mike (July 26, 2019). "Copyright Troll Richard Liebowitz May Have Cost His Client A Ton Of Money, And Set An Expensive Precedent For Copyright Trolls". Techdirt. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
- Cushing, Tim (October 2, 2019). "Copyright Troll Attorney Again Hit With Sanctions For Being A Shitty Lawyer". Techdirt. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
- Cushing, Tim (2019-11-12). "Copyright Troll Lawyer Serves Up BS 'Dead Grandfather' Excuse For Missing Court; Now Facing Sanctions And Arrest". Techdirt. Retrieved 2019-11-12.
- "Order and Order to Show Cause" (PDF), Jason Berger v. Imagina Consulting (Court Filing), S.D.N.Y., No. 7:18-cv-08956 (Docket 60), 2019-11-01 – via Recap
- Bastone, William (2019-11-11). "The Lawyer, The Judge & The Dead Grandfather". The Smoking Gun. Retrieved 2019-11-23.
- "Opinion and Order" (PDF), Usherson v. Bandshell Artist Management (Court Filing), S.D.N.Y., No. 1:19-cv-06368 (Docket 68), June 26, 2020 – via Recap
- Masnick, Mike (June 20, 2020). "Copyright Troll Richard Liebowitz Benchslapped And Sanctioned AGAIN..." Tech Dirt. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
- Masnick, Mike. "World's Worst Copyright Troll, Richard Liebowitz, Suspended From Practicing Law". TechDirt. Retrieved December 6, 2020.