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Caner v. Autry

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

July 1, 2014

ERGUN M. CANER, Plaintiff,
v.
JONATHAN AUTRY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORMAN K. MOON, District Judge.

This case is before the Court on Defendant Jonathan Autry's Motion for Fees and Costs ("Motion for Fees"), filed on May 28, 2014. Ergun M. Caner ("Plaintiff" or "Caner") originally filed this action in the Northern District of Texas, claiming that Jonathan Autry ("Defendant" or "Autry") and another person, Jason Smathers, infringed his copyrights by posting various videos on YouTube.com and other websites. After transfer to this Court, I granted Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment ("Motion for Summary Judgment") in a memorandum opinion and order filed on May 14, 2014. I found that Plaintiff failed to satisfy a prerequisite to copyright suit for one video, that the other video qualified for fair use protection, and that further discovery could not present any genuine dispute of material fact. I therefore construed Defendant's motion as one for summary judgment, granted the motion, and dismissed Plaintiff's amended complaint. Defendant now requests $34, 389.59 in attorney's fees and costs. Since I find that the fees and costs requested are reasonable under 17 U.S.C. § 505, I will grant Defendant's motion for fees in full.

II. BACKGROUND[1]

Ergun M. Caner was born to parents who met at a university in Sweden, and he lived with them and his brothers in Ohio from the time he was a toddler. His father was a devout Muslim, highly involved in the Islamic Community in Ohio, and after a painful divorce, Plaintiff spent weekend visitation at the mosque in Columbus, Ohio with his father. Sometime during high school, Plaintiff began attending church with a friend and became a born-again Christian, going on to obtain a Master of Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and a Doctor of Theology from the University of South Africa. About a year after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Plaintiff and his brother, Emir Caner, wrote what became a popular book about their upbringing as Muslims in Ohio and their conversion to Christianity. Plaintiff became a spokesperson for this background, and was hired by Jerry Falwell in 2005 to serve as the dean of the Liberty Theological Seminary.

Around this time, Plaintiff started making claims in his public speeches that he had grown up as a Muslim in Turkey, steeped and trained in jihad, in a tradition that went back several generations in his father's family. In May 2010, after bloggers and major news media outlets began reporting on contradictions in Plaintiff's narrative, Liberty University conducted an official inquiry into these accusations. Shortly thereafter, Liberty demoted Plaintiff from his position as dean, citing contradictions in factual statements he had made. By 2011, Plaintiff announced that he was called to serve as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Arlington Baptist College in North Texas.[2]

Defendant attended Liberty Theological Seminary during the time Plaintiff served as dean, and as Plaintiff concedes, initially supported Plaintiff and his message. Eventually, revelations led Defendant to believe that Plaintiff was a detriment to the Christian religion and their common institution, Liberty University. Although accusations against Plaintiff emerged in 2010, it was not until the spring of 2011 and the spring of 2012 that Defendant joined the criticism by posting two videos named in the amended complaint (hereinafter the "Count One Video" and "Count Two Video"). Mot., Ex. A ¶¶ 8, 18.

In February 2012, Defendant posted the Count One Video, in which Plaintiff proclaimed his Muslim upbringing in Turkey and expounded on how Muslims in the Middle East would view the U.S. Marines and approach them from the perspective of jihad. Mot., Ex. A ¶¶ 9, 18, 20-23. Defendant wished to expose Plaintiff's dishonesty, knowing he was making claims like those in the Count One Video to countless churches and before the U.S. Military. Mot., Ex. A ¶¶ 21-23. Dr. Caner claimed Autry infringed on a copyright "to the content of his presentation, " by posting this video, an application for which he said was "currently pending at the Copyright Office." Am. Compl. ¶ 14.

Count Two of the Amended Complaint alleged that Autry infringed Caner's rights with a second video, titled "Ergun Educated in Cairo, Egypt, " ("Count Two Video") which "includes live portions of recorded footage of Dr. Caner during various presentations and sermons." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20-22. Dr. Caner alleged that he "own[ed] the copyright to the content of his presentation and ha[d] not authorized Autry to use any portion of this work." Am. Compl. ¶ 22.

Plaintiff first responded to Defendant's videos by filing a takedown notice with YouTube.com in May 2013, claiming he possessed copyright protection over the Count One and Two Videos. Am. Compl. ¶ 9. Defendant contested the videos' removal, and on June 4, 2013, YouTube.com informed Plaintiff that it would repost the videos unless Plaintiff filed legal action within ten business days. Am. Compl. ¶ 12.

This suit followed in the Northern District of Texas, on June 18, 2013. On October 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint, seeking a permanent injunction against purported copyright infringement, along with costs, attorney's fees, investigatory fees, and expenses available under 17 U.S.C. § 505 (the "Copyright Act"). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 48-50. The parties filed various motions in the Northern District of Texas, including Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on November 26, 2013. Dr. Caner responded to the Motion for Summary Judgment on January 6, 2014. On January 15, 2014, the Northern District of Texas severed Jonathan Autry from the case and transferred it to this Court, where only two videos, from count one and count two of the Amended Complaint, remained at issue.

Upon arrival in this Court and after a motion to stay discovery was filed by Defendant, Magistrate Judge Robert S. Ballou ordered the parties to hold a scheduling conference, exchange initial disclosures, and exchange written discovery while the Motion for Summary Judgment was pending, but allowed Defendant to stay further discovery until the Motion's disposition. See April 11, 2014 Order. On April 4, 2014, Defendant filed his reply on the Motion for Summary Judgment. On April 28, 2014, Defendant filed an unopposed Motion to Supplement the Record with copies of the copyright applications Plaintiff had filed with the Copyright Office, which this Court granted. See April 29, 2014 Order. A telephonic hearing on the Motion for Summary Judgment was held on April 30, 2014. After the hearing, Defendant filed a Second Motion to Supplement the Record with information contesting Plaintiff's assertion that Defendant was a disgruntled former employee, which this Court denied.

As noted, on May 14, 2014, I considered Defendant's motion as one for summary judgment and granted the motion, dismissing Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. On May 28, 2014, Autry submitted this Motion for Fees and Costs ("Motion for Fees"), along with supporting documentation. Both parties have timely briefed the motion.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

"The Copyright Act provides that a district court may in its discretion award costs and may also award a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party as part of the costs.'" O'Well Novelty Co. v. Offenbacher, Inc., 225 F.3d 655, at *7 (4th Cir. 2000) (unpublished) (citing 17 U.S.C. § 505). The United States Supreme Court has instructed that, in copyright cases, "[p]revailing plaintiffs and prevailing defendants are to be treated alike." Id. (citing Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517, 533-34 (1994)). Therefore, whether defendant or plaintiff, a court can award a prevailing party in a copyright case its reasonable costs and attorney's fees.

A party prevails under § 505, as in other contexts, when the party obtains "actual relief on the merits of his claim [that] materially alters the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the defendant's behavior in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff." Farrar, 506 U.S. at 111; see also Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Virginia Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 604 (2001) (acknowledging that "judgments on the merits" as well as "settlement agreements enforced through [] consent decree[s] may serve as the basis for an award of attorney's fees, " because they constitute "chang[es] [in] the legal relationship between [the plaintiff] and the defendant.").

In determining whether to award fees to a prevailing party in a copyright case, a district court in the Fourth Circuit should consider: "(1) the motivation of the parties, (2) the objective reasonableness of the legal and factual positions advanced, (3) the need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence, and (4) any other relevant factor presented." Allora, LLC v. Cambridge Builders of Johnston Cnty., Inc., 532 F.Appx. 349, 351-52 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). If these factors weigh in favor of awarding fees, a court uses the lodestar method to determine what amount of attorney's fees would prove reasonable.

A court calculates the lodestar figure "by multiplying the number of reasonable hours expended times a reasonable rate." Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243 (4th Cir. 2009). In determining "what constitutes a reasonable' number of hours and rate, [the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has] instructed that a district court's discretion should be guided by... ...


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