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Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc.

Supreme Court of the United States

December 8, 1993, Argued ; March 1, 1994, Decided

No. 92-1750

Opinion

 [1882]   [***460]  [*519]  [**1026]    CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

 ] The Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 505, provides in relevant part that in any copyright infringement action "the court may . . . award a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party  [***461]  as part of the costs." 1 The question presented in this case is what standards should inform a court's decision to award attorney's fees to a prevailing defendant in a copyright [****6]  infringement action -- a question that has produced conflicting views in the Courts of Appeals.

Petitioner John Fogerty is a successful musician, who, in the late 1960's, was the lead singer and songwriter of a popular music group known as "Creedence Clearwater Revival." 2 In 1970, he wrote a song entitled "Run Through the Jungle" and sold the exclusive publishing rights to predecessors-in-interest of respondent Fantasy, Inc., who later obtained the copyright by assignment. The music group disbanded in 1972 and Fogerty subsequently published under another recording label. In 1985, he published and registered a copyright [****7]  to a song entitled "The Old Man Down the Road," which was released on an album distributed by Warner Brothers Records, Inc. Respondent Fantasy, Inc.,  [*520]  sued Fogerty, Warner Brothers, and affiliated companies, 3 [****8]  in District Court, alleging that "The Old Man Down the Road" was merely "Run Through the Jungle" with new words. 4 The copyright infringement claim went to trial and a jury returned a verdict in favor of Fogerty.

After his successful defense of the action, Fogerty moved for reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 505. The District Court denied the motion, finding that Fantasy's infringement suit was not brought frivolously or in bad faith as required by circuit precedent for an award of attorney's fees to a successful defendant. 5 [****10]  The Court of Appeals affirmed, 984 F.2d 1524  [1883]  (CA9 1993), and declined to abandon the existing Ninth Circuit standard for awarding attorney's fees which treats successful plaintiffs and successful defendants differently. Under that standard, commonly termed the "dual" standard, prevailing plaintiffs are generally awarded attorney's fees as a matter of course, while prevailing [****9]   [***462]  defendants must show that the original suit was frivolous  [*521]  or brought in bad faith. 6 In contrast,  [**1027]  some courts of appeals follow the so-called "evenhanded" approach in which no distinction is made between prevailing plaintiffs and prevailing defendants. 7 The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for example, has ruled that "we do not require bad faith, nor do we mandate an allowance of fees as a concomitant of prevailing in every case, but we do favor an evenhanded approach." Lieb v. Topstone Industries, Inc., 788 F.2d 151, 156 (CA3 1986).

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510 U.S. 517 *; 114 S. Ct. 1023 **; 127 L. Ed. 2d 455 ***; 1994 U.S. LEXIS 2042 ****; 29 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1881; 62 U.S.L.W. 4153; Copy. L. Rep. (CCH) P27,221; 94 Cal. Daily Op. Service 1479; 94 Daily Journal DAR 2582; 7 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 787

JOHN C. FOGERTY, PETITIONER v. FANTASY, INC.

Prior History:  [****1]  ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Disposition: 984 F.2d 1524, reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

prevailing, dual, infringement, creative, fee-shifting, meritorious, evenhanded, frivolous, alike, music

Civil Procedure, Attorney Fees & Expenses, Basis of Recovery, Statutory Awards, Copyright Law, Damages, Types of Damages, Costs & Attorney Fees, Copyright Infringement Actions, Civil Infringement Actions, General Overview, Remedies, Elements, Copying by Defendants, Access, Defenses, Protected Subject Matter, Musical Works, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, American Rule, Costs & Attorney Fees, Costs