Attorney ordered to pay nonprofit $76K in fees after losing copyright case

An Indiana-based nonprofit that works to reduce instances of sexual assault has been awarded more than $76,000 in fees and costs as the prevailing party in a copyright case brought by a Hoosier attorney known for copyright litigation.

Southern Indiana District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ordered Wednesday that Richard Bell pay $76,200.05 in attorney fees and costs to the Midwest Regional Network for Intervention with Sex Offenders. Bell, an attorney and hobbyist photographer, sued MRNISO and Dave Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, for allegedly violating copyright laws by using Bell’s photo of the Indianapolis skyline.

Bell sued Powell and the nonprofit in 2016 after discovering his photo of downtown Indianapolis, taken in 2000, had been used to promote MRNISO’s 2015 annual meeting in Indianapolis. But Pratt granted summary judgment to the defendants in October, ruling for Powell under 11th Amendment immunity and for MRNISO under the fair use doctrine.

Both defendants then moved for attorney fees and costs, with MRNISO seeking $77,950.05. That number reflected instances where counsel’s time was not billed contemporaneously, so time was entered for those instances based on the minimum amount believed to be warranted.

Bell challenged MRNISO’s ask, claiming it was unreasonably high and that the nonprofit “should not be rewarded more than eighty additional hours of attorney fees for its counsel’s failure to contemporaneously record the time spent on the case… .” He also said he “should not be charged for MRNISO’s use of young, inexperienced associates who spent most of their time learning copyright law.”

But “(t)he Court concludes that the hourly rates charged by MRNISO’s counsel in this case are supported by evidence and are reasonable in the Indianapolis market for cases such as this,” Pratt wrote. “Bell’s concern about an award of fees for young, inexperienced associates is resolved by the fact that the hourly rates for those attorneys were lower than the rates for more experienced attorneys, and the Court notes that the hourly rates for those associates were consistent with the prevailing rates for associates in the Indianapolis market.”

Addressing the issue of the time that was not contemporaneously billed, Pratt noted MRNISO’s counsel “added the unlogged time into the billing system, logging the minimum amount of time warranted for a task where the time spent was not immediately apparent.

“Counsel attested to removing duplicative entries, unblocking certain time entries, adding additional explanations of time spent, and adjusting the amount of time entered (in almost all cases reducing time) so that the billed time was appropriate,” the judge wrote.

However, Pratt agreed with Bell that he should not have to pay for time spent by MRNISO’s counsel correcting a misfiled pleading. Thus, she reduced the attorney fee award by $1,770 attributable to those corrections, bringing the fee and costs award to the nonprofit to $76,200.05.

Powell’s request for fees, however, was denied as moot because Bell indicated in court filings that he and Powell had reached a proposed settlement that was under review.

“The denial of the Motion is without prejudice to refiling the motion in the event the parties are unable to finalize their settlement,” Pratt wrote.

The case is Richard N. Bell v. David N. Powell and Midwest Regional Network for Intervention with Sex Offenders, 1;16-cv-02491.

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