Trials & Litigation

Judge sanctions controversial copyright lawyer, notes 'growing body of law' on when to punish him

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A federal judge in New York has ordered a litigious copyright lawyer to pay attorney fees of $8,745 as a sanction for failing to comply with orders for a court appearance and mediation.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York began his July 10 sanctions opinion by noting that the lawyer, Richard Liebowitz, “has earned the dubious distinction of being a regular target of sanctions-related motions and orders. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that there is a growing body of law in this district devoted to the question of whether and when to impose sanctions on Mr. Liebowitz alone. … This opinion is the latest contribution to that body of law.”

Liebowitz is a New York lawyer who has filed more than 700 copyright suits for alleged unauthorized use of photos in Manhattan federal court since 2016, according to Law360’s coverage of the sanctions order.

One judge ordered Liebowitz to take a training class in ethics and professionalism and ordered him to pay $2,000, partly for material omissions in a letter to the court, according to stories by Law360 and Reuters. Another judge ordered Liebowitz’s client to pay $120,000 in attorney fees in a suit against media defendants for using a viral video that constituted fair use, according to Law360.

Furman sanctioned Liebowitz in his suit against NBCUniversal Media for alleged copyright infringement for displaying a photo of a wild raccoon being removed from a beauty shop in the Bronx. NBCUniversal said it had a license for online use of the photo and offered a $200 invoice as proof.

Liebowitz didn’t respond to scheduling emails for the mediation and filed a stipulation by the parties to dismiss the case May 1, a day before a scheduled pretrial conference. Liebowitz moved to cancel the May 2 conference, but the court refused, ordering Liebowitz to show up to explain why he didn’t comply with the mediation order.

Despite that order, Liebowitz did not show up May 2. When court staff members contacted Liebowitz’s office, they got conflicting information as to “whether he was out of town or on his way,” Furman said.

Furman concluded that Liebowitz willfully failed to comply with the orders for mediation and Liebowitz’s May 2 appearance. The sanction was for attorney fees incurred by NBCUniversal after April 18, the date by which the parties were ordered to conduct mediation.

Liebowitz didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment by the ABA Journal.

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