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The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has issued an attorneys’ fees award that offers insight into the judicial view of legal work in right-of-publicity and trademark cases. The case concerned a suit by the estate of Princess Diana over merchandise bearing her name and likeness. The plaintiffs alleged right-of-publicity and Lanham Act trademark claims. In June 2000, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. On Sept. 12, the court issued its opinion on the defendants’ request for an attorneys’ fees award. Cairns v. Franklin Mint Co., 98-3847. The defendants sought $3,124,122 for more than 10,900 hours of work on the case, including for their lawyers’ efforts in lobbying against a change in California’s right-of-publicity law. In calculating the fees figure, the defendants segregated time allocable exclusively to either the right-of-publicity or trademark claims. The defendants then allocated the remaining time equally between those claims. The district court decided that it would be inappropriate to allocate half of the combined time to the right-of-publicity claim, which was on appeal while the trademark claims were being litigated. The court thus reduced by 50 percent the amount of fees that the defendants had designated as “50 percent right of publicity.” The latter 50 percent was added to the fees designated as “50 percent trademark claims.” Computer research fees allocated to the right-of-publicity claim were also reduced by 50 percent under the same reasoning and added to fees designated as “computer research 50 percent trademark.” The district court went on to reduce the trademark fees by approximately 30 percent based on its conclusion that the plaintiffs’ false endorsement claim wasn’t “groundless, unreasonable, vexatious or pursued in bad faith.” That the plaintiffs had publicly said that they were successful in securing additional licensing fees as a result of the litigation didn’t constitute evidence of bad faith, the court said. (The district court did find, however, that the plaintiffs’ dilution and false advertising claims were groundless and unreasonable.) Finally, the court denied the defendants’ request for fees for their lawyers’ lobbying efforts. According to the court, “These fees were not incurred in defending their clients’ interests against plaintiffs’ suit in this Court. Defendants implicitly acknowledge that the two matters are separate by the use of two billing numbers. The Court deducts $91,000 from the portion of fees attributed to the right of publicity claim.” The result was a total attorneys’ fees award to the defendants of $2,308,000. Stan Soocher is editor-in-chief of Entertainment Law & Finance. He is also chair of Music and Entertainment Industry Studies at the University of Colorado at Denver.

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