As previously discussed, UFC owner Zuffa employs an aggressive two pronged legal strategy against commercial establishments that broadcast their Pay Per View programs without purchasing a commercial sub licence to do so. Such Defendants are sued for cable/satellite theft and additionally the UFC seeks damages under the Copyright Act. When these suits are successful Defendants are ordered to pay not only damages but also the UFC’s legal fees. Reasons for judgement were recently published fitting this fact pattern assessing legal fees at over $46,000.
In the recent case (Zuffa, LLC v. South Beach Saloon) the Defendants displayed UFC 163 without purchasing a commercial sub licence. There were only seven people in the establishment when the program was broadcast. In the lawsuit the Plaintiff sought $490,000 in damages but only succeeded in persuading the court a small fraction of this award. They were awarded a total of $6,000 in damages. Despite this modest success the Defendants also were ordered to pay legal fees of over $46,000. In reaching this assessment Magistrate Judge Tomlinson provided the following reasons:
“The Court shall direct the recovery of full costs, including awarding reasonable attorneys’ fees to an aggrieved party who prevails” on a claim brought under Section 605 of the Federal Communications Act. 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(B)(iii). There does not appear to be any disagreement as to Plaintiffs’ entitlement to attorneys’ fees and costs under the terms of this statute. See Maupin, 2018 WL 2417840, at *10 (“The Defendants do not dispute that the Plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys’ fees pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(B)(iii).”). Rather, Defendants argue that, based on the specific characteristics of the instant litigation, Plaintiffs’ fee award should be nominal. The Court’s analysis will therefore focus on the appropriate amount of fees and costs which should be awarded to Plaintiffs.
The Court respectfully recommends to Judge Spatt that an award of attorneys’ fees be made to Plaintiffs at a rate of $300 per hour for Attorney Jekielek and $200 per hour for Attorney Janis. Based on these rates and the hours billed as submitted in counsels’ supporting documents, and before any adjustments are taken into account, Plaintiffs would be entitled to a fee award of $11,310 (Attorney Jekielek at $300 per hour x 37.7 hours billed) + $1,020 (Attorney Jekielek at $150 per hour x 6.8 hours of travel) + $53,920 (Attorney Janis at $200 per hour x 269.6 hours billed) = $66,250.00. However, as the Court discussed at length, there are two related reasons why this figure should be adjusted downward: the hours billed by counsel in this single transmission Communications and Copyright Act case were excessive, and the fees sought are inconsistent with what a reasonable client would be willing to pay given the nature of the case. Therefore, this Court respectfully recommends to Judge Spatt that Plaintiffs’ provisional fee award of $66,250 be reduced by 30%, and Plaintiffs be awarded a total award for attorneys’ fees of $46,375.00.