Court Upholds Attorney Sanctions of $257,000

     (CN) – A lawyer deserved to be severely sanctioned for spending five years chasing a frivolous copyright claim over the score for an Indian movie, the 9th Circuit ruled. His client was ordered to pay more than $257,000 in attorney’s fees and costs.

     Anthony Kornarens filed suit on behalf of Bappi Lahiri, who composed the song “Thoda” for an Indian movie 21 years earlier.
     Lahiri composed “Thoda” under an agreement with the film’s producer, Pramod Films. The parties agreed that, under Indian law, Pramod Films, not Lahiri, owned the copyrights. Pramod Films later assigned its “Thoda” rights to Saregama India Limited.
     Lahiri’s lawsuit claimed that Universal Music & Video Distribution Corp., Interscope Records, Aftermath Records and Andre Ramelle Young used unauthorized excerpts from “Thoda” in violation of the Lanham Act, a federal trademark law.
“Kornarens, a copyright specialist, did not include a copyright infringement claim in the original complaint,” the ruling states.
And at the time, Lahiri did not have a registered copyright in the song.
     “Generally, a composer who creates a film score for hire forfeits a copyright interest in his work,” U.S. District Judge Susan Conlon wrote for the three-judge 9th Circuit panel.
     Lahiri registered a copyright only after the Supreme Court decided to take up Dastar v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., where a key issue was the Lanham Act protects only the producers of tangible goods.
     Kornarens then amended the complaint to add a copyright infringement claim, the only claim to survive dismissal. Saregama filed a similar lawsuit, claiming it owned the copyrights to “Thoda.”
     Kornarens claimed to have settled the issue of copyright ownership with Saregama, telling the court they were “co-owners” of the copyrights. In reality, the parties had simply agreed to split any award in their consolidated case 30 percent and 70 percent, with Saregama taking the larger share.
     Relying on the purported co-ownership agreement, the district court declined to dismiss the case. The error resulted in contentious litigation that lasted for three more years, according to the ruling. Lahiri eventually lost, and the district court awarded the defendants $247,397 in attorney’s fees and $10,808 in court costs as a sanction for Kornarens’ misconduct.
     Kornarens argued that the sanctions were unwarranted and excessive, but the Pasadena-based appeals panel disagreed.
     “The record demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that Kornarens engaged in a pattern of bad faith litigation conduct over an extended period of time. He pursued a meritless copyright infringement claim that directly resulted in excessive fees and costs,” the panel ruled.

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