Jasper homebuilder sued in copyright case wins $518K in attorney fees

A Jasper homebuilder that was sued by a company that has sued more than 100 defendants, including dozens of Indiana homebuilders, has been awarded more than $518,000 in attorney fees after a judge previously cleared the Jasper company of home design copyright infringement.

Kerstiens Homes & Designs Inc. last year prevailed in a suit brought by Omaha, Nebraska-based Design Basics LLC, a reputed “copyright troll” that sought $3 million in damages from Kerstiens, a Jasper luxury homebuilder. Design Basics unsuccessfully alleged Kerstiens had infringed its copyrights on seven home designs.

Last week, Southern Indiana District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt also ordered Design Basics to pay Kerstiens’ attorney fees of $518,457.80.

“This amount is believed to be the largest attorney fee award against Design Basics,” Paul B. Overhauser, an intellectual-property-infringement attorney based in Greenfield who represented Kerstiens, said in a news release.

“Copyright infringement is one of the few types of cases where a losing plaintiff can be ordered to pay the defendant’s attorney’s fees. That is especially important to smaller businesses who can’t afford major litigation,” he said.

The award surpasses previous awards against Design Basics of $310,759.34 and $243,506.28, according to Overhauser.

“In the end, Design Basics’ theory that copyright protection extends to a mere floor plan of a simple house design was rejected by the court,” Overhauser said. “Kerstiens has been known for decades throughout Southern Indiana as a well-respected builder. It’s a shame that it got swept up in this litigation, but at least Design Basics is going to have to cover its attorney’s fees.”

Two other defendants sued by Design Basics recently prevailed on summary judgment and are expected to recover their attorney’s fees, according to Overhauser, who said Design Basics has not prevailed at trial in any of its cases.

Attorneys for the firm representing Design Basics, LaDue Curran Kuehn LLC in South Bend, did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment.

The case is Design Basics, LLC, Plan Pros, Inc., and Prime Designs Inc. v. Kerstiens Home & Designs, Inc., et al., 1:16-cv-00726.

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