Losing Copyright Plaintiff (Mattel, in the “Bratz” Litigation) Must Pay Defendant $137 Million Dollars in Attorneys’ Fees and Costs

So District Judge David O. Carter held Thursday in Mattel v. MGA (though I assume that the case will either be appealed, or will settle for something less than the total amount in lieu of an appeal). The Copyright Act specifically provides that the loser — whether plaintiff or defendant — may be ordered to pay the winner’s attorney fees and costs. Whether to award the fees and costs is in the court’s discretion, based on whether the award would sufficiently further the Copyright Act’s purposes (a mushy standard, to be sure). Here’s Judge Carter’s conclusion:

In this case, Mattel claimed that it owned valid copyrights in the concept sketches and sculpts for the “Bratz” line of dolls and that every generation of “Bratz” dolls released by MGA infringed those copyrights. The breadth of Mattel’s infringement claim corresponded with its request for “more than $1 billion dollars in copyright damages” and an “injunction prohibiting MGA from producing or marketing virtually every Bratz female fashion doll, as well as any future dolls substantially similar to Mattel’s copyrighted Bratz works.” This request for relief was predicated on Mattel’s mistaken expectation that it owned the “ideas” in the copyrighted works; and the mere specter of that relief may have clouded MGA’s business prospects, bolstered Mattel’s status, and changed the landscape of the fashion doll industry….

Mattel asserted a copyright claim that was stunning in scope and unreasonable in the relief it requested. The claim imperiled free expression, competition, and the only serious competitor Mattel had faced in the fashion doll market in nearly 50 years. MGA’s successful defense ensured that well-resourced plaintiffs cannot bend the law to suit their pecuniary interests. For these reasons, and pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 505, the Court awards MGA $105,688,073.00 in attorneys’ fees and $31,677,104.00 in costs.

If you’d like more on the substantive dispute, read the Ninth Circuit’s 2010 opinion (which covers most of the issues; a later district court decision covered what remained). You can also read this L.A. Times article that discusses the trade secret counterclaim in the case, and the award it led to against Mattel. Note also that Judge Carter’s opinion is docket entry number 10,703.

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