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Artist Gets a Break on Fees From 9th Circuit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge improperly denied an artist the full amount of attorneys' fees she requested in a copyright battle, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.

Pastel artist Victoria Ryan had brought the case against Editions Limited West in 2006, accusing the latter of violating a publishing contract.

Ryan's 1995 contract with Editions came before the "derivative works of art, such as canvas transfers, giclées, and wall murals, became increasingly popular," the Tuesday ruling notes

With no explicit mention in the poster-licensing deal regarding the production of derivative works, Ryan believed that Editions was violating her copyright when retailers began offering canvas transfer and wall mural reproductions of her art for sale.

After a bench trial, a federal judge awarded Ryan an injunction on her infringement claim. Ryan in turn sought $328,000 in attorneys' fees, plus sanctions for spoliation that Editions allegedly committed.

The court awarded her less than 20 percent of that amount, $51,000, but a panel of the 9th Circuit sitting in San Francisco found Tuesday that this decision "failed to provide an adequate explanation."

Ryan is entitled to recover fees incurred throughout the case's lengthy history, including those incurred in connection with her initial cease-and-desist efforts, the ruling states.

"On remand, the district court may in its discretion reduce the requested hours and fees to comport with Ryan's limited success and to eliminate hours that the court finds are excessive," Judge Michael Hawkins wrote for the three-judge panel. "There is no precise formula or methodology that the district court is obligated to follow.

"But, the district court must provide a more detailed explanation for its reductions and must consider the interrelated nature of the claims involved in the underlying litigation."

It was wrong for the trial court to mechanically reduce the amount of fees by three-quarters to reflect the fact that Ryan succeeded on only one of the four claims she asserted in her complaint.

"Given the highly interrelated nature of Ryan's claims, a pro rata reduction of fees was inappropriate," Hawkins wrote. "On remand, the district court has discretion to select an adequate method for reducing Ryan's requested fees that balances Ryan's entitlement to fees as the prevailing party with her limited success in the litigation as a whole."

Finally, the lower court should not have reduced the fees awarded by another 20 percent to account for "block-billing and interested improperly claimed," according to the 25-page ruling.

"The district court provided no explanation for the determination that twenty percent was the appropriate amount to deduct, and failed to account for the fact that many of the entries in Ryan's billing log were not billed in block format," Hawkins wrote.

"Absent such explanation, we are unable to adequately review or sustain the district court's action."

The appellate ruling also affirms the order denying Ryan's motion for sanctions and her motion for leave to amend.

It awards Ryan costs on the appeal, in which she was represented by Richard De Liberty of Santa Rosa, Calif. The defendants were represented by Michael Painter of Isaacman, Kaufman & Painter in Los Angeles.

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