Substantial costs awarded in Jay-Z copyright dispute

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Earlier this year we reported that the US rapper, Shawn Carter, known as Jay-Z, had successfully defended a claim brought by a sound engineer who was claiming to be the joint owner of the copyright in three albums produced by Jay-Z’s record label (and co-defendant).

The claim was rejected on the basis that it was made out of time – the copyright in the material was first registered in 2000 and the claim was not brought until 2014, well after the limitation period had expired under US law.

As a postscript to the case, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York has ordered the claimant to pay around US $200,000 in attorneys’ costs.

Awards of attorneys’ costs are not the norm in US copyright cases so why was the award made in this case?

The judge explained that when deciding on whether to award attorneys’ fees, the judge must have regard to the “frivolousness” and “objective unreasonableness” of the claim and of the “motivation” behind it. Of these, the objective unreasonableness of the claim is the most important factor and, in this case, the claimant’s case was objectively unreasonable. The judge also said it was important to set a lesson and to deter frivolous law suits.

In this case, the delay in bringing proceedings was huge – roughly three times the length of the limitation period, which helps to explain why the judge felt confident to make the order.