The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Thursday in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [SCOTUSblog materials] on the standard for awarding attorney’s fees under § 505 of the Copyright Act [text]. Under the act, the district court is permitted to use its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees to a prevailing party in a copyright action. The Second Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] a finding that John Wiley’s course of action in challenging Kirtsaeng’s use of copyrighted material was objectively reasonable, but the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court:
Section 505 of the Copyright Act provides that a district court “may … award a reasonable attorney’s fee to the prevailing party.” … The question presented here is whether a court, in exercising that authority, should give substantial weight to the objective reasonableness of the losing party’s position. The answer, as both decisions below held, is yes—the court should. But the court must also give due consideration to all other circumstances relevant to granting fees; and it retains discretion, in light of those factors, to make an award even when the losing party advanced a reasonable claim or defense. Because we are not certain that the lower courts here understood the full scope of that discretion, we return the case for further consideration of the prevailing party’s fee application.
The court heard oral arguments in this case in April after granting certiorari [JURIST reports] in January.
This is the second time this case has been before the Supreme Court. In 2013 the court ruled [JURIST report] that the “first sale” doctrine [17 USC § 109(a)] applies to imported works. When Supap Kirtsaeng came to study at Cornell University, he realized that the same textbooks his peers used were sold at drastically lower prices in his home country of Thailand. He had his family buy the books for him, and he resold them to classmates, accruing approximately $100,000 in profit.