Docket Number: 22-15162
Judge: Lee
Opinion Date: June 7, 2023

Counsel filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of copyright holders of musical compositions and recovered a little over $50,000 for the class members from Defendant Rhapsody International, Inc. (now rebranded as Napster), a music streaming service. The class members obtained no meaningful injunctive or nonmonetary relief in the settlement of their action. The district court nonetheless authorized $1.7 in attorneys’ fees under the “lodestar” method.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees to Plaintiffs’ counsel and remanded. The panel held that the touchstone for determining the reasonableness of attorneys’ fees in a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 is the benefit to the class. Here, the benefit was minimal. The panel held that the district court erred in failing to calculate the settlement’s actual benefit to the class members who submitted settlement claims, as opposed to a hypothetical $20 million cap agreed on by the parties. The panel held that district courts awarding attorneys’ fees in class actions under the Copyright Act must still generally consider the proportion between the award and the benefit to the class to ensure that the award is reasonable. The panel recognized that a fee award may exceed the monetary benefit provided to the class in certain copyright cases, such as when a copyright infringement litigation leads to substantial nonmonetary relief or provides a meaningful benefit to society, but this was not such a case. The panel instructed that, on remand, the district court should rigorously evaluate the actual benefit provided to the class and award reasonable attorneys’ fees considering that benefit. View “DAVID LOWERY, ET AL V. RHAPSODY INTERNATIONAL, INC.” on Justia Law

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