Ninth Circuit Rules on Copyright Act -- Attorney's Fees
A prevailing party in copyright actions may recover attorneys' fees under the Copyright Act. In Cadkin v. Loose, decided on June 26, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a defendant is not entitled to attorneys' fees as a prevailing party under the Copyright Act when a plaintiff dismisses without prejudice a complaint for copyright infringement. The Cadkin decision represents a change in the law in the Ninth Circuit.
The Ninth Circuit in Cadkin found that a 2001 Supreme Court decision interpreting the definition of "prevailing party" in the context of the Fair Housing Amendments Act applied. The key inquiry in the Supreme Court case, Buckhannon v. Care Home Inc., was whether there had been a material alteration in the relationship of the parties. Since the plaintiffs in Cadkin voluntarily dismissed their copyright claim, they were free to re-file the case in the future and, as such, there was no material alteration in the relationship.
The Ninth Circuit now joins the First, Sixth, and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeal in holding that Buckhannon applies to Copyright Act claims. No federal circuit court of appeal has held to the contrary.