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Copyright Lawyer Wants Judge Recused for Calling Him a Troll

Oct. 30, 2019, 9:34 PM

Copyright lawyer Richard Liebowitz wants Lewis A. Kaplan, a federal judge in Manhattan, to recuse himself from one of Liebowitz’s infringement cases, arguing Kaplan can’t be impartial based on his past comments calling Liebowitz a “copyright troll.”

“Once a person labels another human being as a ‘troll,’ certain truths become self-evident, the most obvious being that any actions taken by the so-called ‘troll’ will be perceived through the lens of that negative stereotype, and any judgments rendered will inevitably function to confirm that hostile perception,” Liebowitz said in an Oct. 29 filing in the Southern District of New York.

Liebowitz represents photographer Steven Sands in a copyright infringement case filed against Bauer Media Group USA LLC for allegedly using one of his pictures without permission.

Liebowitz says Kaplan called him a troll in a September order, accusing him of filing “strike suits, designed to extort settlements.”

“The term ‘copyright troll’ is nothing more than a pejorative schoolyard epithet that has no place in the judicial lexicon of an Article III officer,” Liebowitz says.

Liebowitz said Kaplan called him out for filing a “deluge” of cases. “But that would be like blaming the DEA for all the drug traffickers it prosecutes, rather than the traffickers themselves,” Liebowitz says. “It’s not Mr. Liebowitz’s fault that the publishing community steals photographs en masse.”

Liebowitz is known for filing a high volume of copyright infringement cases on behalf of photographers, and has been called a copyright troll by two other judges in Southern District of New York cases.

Judge Denise Cote called Liebowitz a troll based on an “astonishing volume of filings coupled with an astonishing rate of voluntary dismissals and quick settlements.”

And Judge Ronnie Abrams said Liebowitz has a “propensity to take unreasonable positions and to omit crucial facts—or even make outright misrepresentations—in an apparent attempt to increase costs and to extort unwarranted settlements.”

The case is Sands v. Bauer Media Group USA LLC, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:17-cv-09215, memorandum filed 10/29/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Brittain in Washington at bbrittain@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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