Search Engines Awarded Legal Fees in Unmeritorious Copyright Case–Newborn v. Yahoo

By Eric Goldman

Newborn v. Yahoo, 2006 WL 1409769 (D.D.C. May 23, 2006)

I blogged about this case in November 2005. At that time, the plaintiff sued Yahoo and Google under copyright and trademark law because the search engines had indexed the plaintiff’s press releases. However, the complaint was so defective that the court dismissed the case out of hand.

As a follow up to that quick win, Yahoo and Google sought their legal fees for defending the lawsuit. Both the Copyright Act and the Lanham Act have statutory “loser pays” provisions, although the Lanham Act’s standards are more demanding than the Copyright Act’s standards. Based on the prevailing standards, the court awarded Yahoo and Google their legal fees associated with defending the copyright infringement claim but not the trademark claim. Yahoo and Google also sought to have the plaintiff’s attorney personally liable for some/all of their fees, but the court declined to extend liability to the attorney. I suspect letting the attorney off the hook reduces the likelihood that the search engines will actually see any cash; these types of plaintiffs tend not to have a lot of extra cash lying around.

Nevertheless, the plaintiff likely will be exposed to tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees (the exact number will be determined when the search engines segregate their costs of defending the copyright and trademark claims). This is a good reminder to plaintiffs that bringing a copyright infringement (or even a trademark infringement) claim is a serious matter with potentially significant ramifications. Specifically, as I wrote in my November post, “If you’re going to sue Google or Yahoo for indexing practices, get a top-notch lawyer.”