A New York lawyer who has represented clients in more than 500 copyright cases in the last two years faces $10,000 in sanctions for failure to comply with a federal court’s notification requirements.
Richard P. Liebowitz of the Liebowitz Law Firm PLLC, Valley Stream, N.Y., created unnecessary legal expenses for the defendant, a small cleaning service, by failing to give it notice of a pretrial conference date, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled Feb. 28.
“The district court’s recent decision to issue sanctions is driven by a false and defamatory stereotype that the Liebowitz Law Firm (and its clients) are ‘copyright trolls,’” Richard Liebowitz told Bloomberg Law in an email. Liebowitz Law Firm is considering its legal options, he said.
The ruling serves as a warning to law firms taking on a large number of cases to heed notification and other court requirements. Some firms, such as Liebowitz’s, are handling dozens of online infringement cases.
Failure to Notify Not Inadvertent
The court rejected Liebowitz’s claim that failure to serve notice on his opponent was “inadvertent” and an “honest mistake.” Liebowitz’s argument is “unpersuasive given his prior practice before this Court and in this district,” the court said.
The court noted Liebowitz has been labeled a copyright “troll” and cited the large number of lawsuits filed by the firm.
The law firm represents more than 350 photographers enforcing their copyrights, Liebowitz said. The bulk of Liebowitz’s cases involve claims by photographers that media outlets have used their photos without permission.
Ordinarily, such cases are rare, because the cost of legal representation usually outweighs any potential recovery that a copyright owner can expect for infringement of a single photograph.
The district court deviated from U.S. Supreme Court and U.S Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit precedent requiring courts to make specific factual findings of bad faith to support sanctions, Liebowitz said. The district court’s decision was based on technical omissions that caused no prejudice to the defendant, and there was no finding of bad faith, he said.
A different federal judge in November found Liebowitz had made the same omission in another case, the court said. As a result, Liebowitz was on notice to ensure he properly notified defendants, the court said.
Judge Denise Cote issued the court’s sanctions order. The court set a March 9 deadline for payment of the penalty.
Furgang & Afwar LLP represented the defendant.
The case is Steeger v. JMS Cleaning Servs. LLC, 2018 BL 68002, S.D.N.Y., No. 17-8013, 2/28/18.
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