Lawyer’s fee tally exceeds $100k for dubious Indy skyline photo suits

An Indiana lawyer and photographer who’s sued hundreds of people alleging copyright infringement has been ordered to pay more than $100,000 in fees and costs — most recently in a ruling where a judge essentially described his legal motivation as a shakedown.

Richard Bell of McCordsville claims he’s protecting his copyrighted photos of the Indianapolis skyline, but defendants he’s sued for posting those images on websites consider him a copyright troll. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on Friday ordered Bell to pay one group of defendants he wrongly sued $93,871.15 in attorney fees and costs.

Bell filed a complaint in 2011 alleging 25 defendants used his Indianapolis skyline photo on websites without first paying a licensing fee. Five of those defendants — Cameron Taylor, Taylor Computer Solutions, Fred O’Brien, Insurance Concepts and Shanna Cheatham, collectively referred to as the Taylor defendants — denied they had used the photo. Bell later sought to amend his complaint and allege the defendants used a nighttime picture of the city rather than the daytime image he initially alleged. He appealed a ruling against him to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the district court in July.

“Bell has filed numerous suits in this Court, each involving the same or similar infringement allegations. In many of these copyright infringement suits, Bell has improperly joined several defendants, thereby saving himself extensive filing fees. After filing suit, Bell offered quick settlements to defendants who were unwilling to pay for a legal defense,” Pratt wrote in Friday’s order.

“Additionally, while Bell’s motion to amend his complaint a fourth time was pending in this case, Bell filed a second copyright case against Taylor Defendants, asserting the same claims as those asserted in the proposed fourth amended complaint.  This resulted in the exact same plaintiff and defendants litigating the exact same claims in the same Court in two different actions. Furthermore, Bell lacked any evidentiary support for his Indianapolis Photo claims against Taylor Defendants. Bell’s motivation for filing this action appears to be an attempt to extract quick, small settlements from many defendants instead of using the judicial process to protect his copyright against legitimate infringing actors.”

Pratt previously awarded Bell defendants $22,289.65 and $12,920 in separate orders within the past two weeks. Together with Friday’s order, Bell has been ordered to pay legal fees and costs totaling $116,173.72 in that time.

Pratt added credence to her ruling by citing the factors established in Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517, 535 n.19 (1994). The landmark ruling, in which Creedence Clearwater Revival lead singer John Fogerty successfully defended a copyright claim from his former record label, established that copyright prevailing defendants are entitled to legal fees and costs at the court’s discretion. Factors weighing on the award are the frivolousness of the action, the losing party’s motivation, the objective reasonableness of the suit, and the need to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence. Pratt found each of these factors weighed against Bell.

The Taylor defendants are represented by Carmel attorney John W. Nelson.

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