Inglewood Told To Pay $118k Of Taxpayer Money For Abusing Copyright Law To Silence A Critic

from the democracy! dept

Remember the City of Inglewood, California? The city where mayor James Butts was so annoyed that an online critic, Joseph Teixeira, had made some mocking videos using clips from city council meetings, that he allotted $50,000 of taxpayer money to fund a lawyer to file an absolutely bogus copyright lawsuit against Teixeira? This lawsuit alleged that Teixeira somehow infringed on the copyright of the City by adding commentary to these videos. There was so much wrong with the lawsuit that it was a total embarrassment for the city and the lawyer, Joanna Esty, who claims to be a “seasoned” lawyer with expertise in intellectual property law.

The court did not take long in dismissing the lawsuit and benchslapping the city for filing the lawsuit in the first place. The court allowed Teixeira to seek legal fees, and while the city pushed back, the court has now told the city to pay another $117,741 in legal fees to Teixeira’s lawyers, noting that the entire lawsuit was “objectively unreasonable.”

Judge Michael Fitzgerald has another opportunity to smack Inglewood around for filing such a bogus lawsuit in the first place, and notes that it’s pretty damn clear that the entire purpose behind this lawsuit was to silence a critic, not because of any legitimate belief that a copyright was being infringed.

It is, of course, impossible to know with certainty what prompted the City to bring this lawsuit. The City avers that its only motivation was to enforce the rights it believed it had in the videos…. But the Court is not persuaded. As Defendant rightly notes, the main justification of the Copyright Act is ?the protection of the commercial interest of the author.?… California law, however, prohibits the City from charging anything more than the ?direct costs of duplication? when providing public records…. Pecuniary gain, therefore, could not have been the motivating factor in filing this action. As the Court made clear at the hearing, the City?s most plausible purpose was to stifle Defendant?s political speech after he harshly criticized the City?s elected officials. As such, this factor weighs heavily in favor of an attorneys? fees award.

At the hearing, counsel for Plaintiff implied that this Court was basing its ruling on the reaction of the press or the academic community. The Court does not do so.

The judge also notes that he’s worried that, if left unpunished, Inglewood or other cities might do this again:

The Court is also persuaded that a fee award is necessary to deter future meritless litigations of this kind. The City argues that the attorneys? fees ?will have absolutely no deterrent effect? on a municipality that intends to file no future copyright lawsuits…. Even if true, the Court notes that deterrence is a broad value that is not limited to the individual litigants here. Indeed, a reasonable award of fees will serve to deter other entities, whether public or private, that contemplate bringing unreasonable suits to pressure an individual into abandoning protected activity.

So, between the original $50,000 allotted and this $117,741, that’s an awful lot of taxpayer money being spent just to try to stifle someone’s First Amendment rights. It kind of makes you wonder what they’re doing with the rest of the taxpayer funds they have access to.

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Comments on “Inglewood Told To Pay $118k Of Taxpayer Money For Abusing Copyright Law To Silence A Critic”

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DogBreath says:

Just another day of typical government malfeasance in action

So, between the original $50,000 allotted and this $117,741, that’s an awful lot of taxpayer money being spent just to try to stifle someone’s First Amendment rights. It kind of makes you wonder what they’re doing with the rest of the taxpayer funds they have access to.

Based on their level of self-importance and incompetence, I’ll bet it is mostly on this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cadillac v Chevy

From the Judge Fitzgerald’s order:

The City maintains that the hours billed by Defendant’s attorneys are grossly inflated. The City primarily takes issue with the time spent on drafting the motion to dismiss and related papers. Mr. Laidman alone appears to have spent over 130 hours on the motion to dismiss . . .

The Court in no way wishes to criticize Mr. Laidman and does not suggest that the hours worked were excessive in terms of producing a polished final product. Nonetheless, the City cannot be forced to pay for a Cadillac if a Chevy would have sufficed. Moreover, based on the Court’s own experience as an associate, this is precisely the sort of case in which a lawyer might feel free to work more hours since the client might not get stuck with a bill. . . .

Therefore, the Court determines that 45 hours should be subtracted from the total time billed by Mr. Laidman in the final loadstar calculation.

(Emphasis added; citations omitted.)

I would agree that the City should not be forced to pay for a chartered helicopter when an automobile would have sufficed. But neither should defendants run the risk of getting stuck with a Trabant. When hauled into an American court, defendants may reasonably expect an American-made car.

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Re: Re:

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