Copyright troll Richard Liebowitz (who once got so offended that he was called a copyright troll that he asked a judge to “redact” the phrase, only to have the judge double down on calling him a troll)… He’s been sanctioned for lying to the court, he’s been sanctioned for failing to comply with court orders, and is currently facing some serious penalties for lying about the death of his grandfather to a judge (which resulted in the most ridiculous letter he had a family friend send to the court, chalking such mistakes up to inexperience). But Liebowitz has a ton of experience in getting the law wrong. Hell, it was over two years ago that we wrote about him getting a judicial smackdown so bad that the judge began it by stating:
No reasonable lawyer with any familiarity with the law of copyright could have thought…
And yet, Liebowitz is still out there doing his thing. And it’s causing real problems. Earlier this year, he sued a small business called Analytical Grammar because the company’s owner, Erin Karl, shared a viral meme on Facebook. She wrote all about the case in a GoFundMe page:
In Dec 2017 we shared a picture of a visual pun that was going viral around the internet. It also went viral from our page.
Fast forward to August 2019. Analytical Grammar was served a lawsuit on behalf of Matthew Bradley of Windsor, California, who says he created the meme. There had previously been no communication between Bradley and AG.
Representing Bradley is New York attorney Richard Liebowitz.
If you’re curious, the Facebook post appears to still be up. You can also see the original image as it’s Exhibit A in the complaint. It’s a silly joke showing a bunch of levels (you know, the tools you use to see if something is level), all with painter’s tape on each one with “WRONG” written in a Sharpie on each one, and the image is captioned: “This is wrong on so many levels.” Get it? It made me chuckle, at least. You can find this image in some other places online, including, (bizarrely) a version that also shows Ajit Pai’s face on each level for reasons I don’t fully understand.
Either way, Liebowitz sued on behalf of Matthew Bradley, who apparently wants to cash in on the viral nature of this image. Erin Karl brought in Booth Sweet, the Boston-based law firm that has quite a bit of experience dealing with copyright trolls, including Liebowitz. Their Answer and Counterclaims is worth reading as well, as they note that Bradley originally posted his image to Facebook, which has a convenient “share” feature, and even commented how excited he was that his image was being shared widely, stating: ?Wow! I am stunned! Over 10K shares. Time for a shameless plug for my blog…” They also point out that Bradley’s image itself is believed to be “an unlicensed derivative work based on an earlier photograph by a third party,” meaning that if there is much of a copyright at all in the image, it might not be Bradley’s, while also pointing out some other issues regarding Bradley’s delayed registration of the image.
Also, how can you not love a filing in this case with the following paragraph:
Bradley?s lawsuit is wrong on so many levels. He levels claims against Analytical for sharing his joke. He does his level best to take Analytical down a level. But his claims are not on the level. Analytical raises these counterclaims to level the field.
The case appears to be proceeding in standard Liebowitz fashion. In October, Judge Louise Flanagan, followed in the footsteps of so many other judges and started to bench slap Liebowitz over his many mistakes:
It appears Mr. Leibowitz’s standing has been called into question in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Referred to as a ?copyright troll,? in a case involving one of the plaintiffs named above, a district judge recently observed ?Mr. Liebowitz has been sanctioned, reprimanded, and advised to ?clean up [his] act? by other judges of this Court.? Sands v. Bauer Media Grp. USA, LLC, No. 17-CV-9215 (LAK), 2019 WL 4464672, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 18, 2019). Serious sanctions were imposed by the judge in that case on account of plaintiff’s discovery deficiencies, including requirement that Mr. Leibowitz personally pay defendant’s fees associated with advancing its motion to dismiss as a sanction for alleged discovery misconduct.
This judge joins the chorus of those telling this attorney to clean up his act. The dockets of each of the cases assigned to me, wherein this attorney represents a plaintiff, are littered with deficiency notices. This is a harbinger for troubled litigation ahead.
The judge highlights the many mistakes Liebowitz has made, including not filing a “notice of appearance” (one of the first steps you do as a lawyer in a lawsuit) for over two months. The judge points to similar failures in other dockets where Liebowitz is the lawyer in question. The judge is not happy about Liebowitz wasting the court’s time.
The problems described above appear rooted in a failure to read or understand the court’s CM/ECF Policies and Procedures Manual and the Court’s Local Civil Rules, and disrespect for the work of the clerk. There appears a failure to profit from the clerk’s work to bring issues to the attorney’s attention prompt attention. Many of the issues repeat themselves from case to case.
And then tells him to shape up, or see all the cases dismissed:
This attorney is noticed that he has until October 10, 2019, to cure any and every noticed deficiency in the three cases now assigned to me. If no address is made in accordance with this order, the cases at issue will be dismissed.
On October 10th, Liebowitz had to tell the court that he believed that all of the various deficiencies had been resolved and “there are not any noticed deficiencies on the docket for the above-referenced matter.” The case is continuing, but it appears that, still, all is not well. Since Liebowitz is not based in North Carolina where the case is filed, he had a local co-counsel on the case, Seth Hudson. However, for whatever reason (we won’t speculate), Hudson apparently decided that maybe he was better off not being a part of this case, and so Liebowitz is trying to swap him out with another local lawyer.
Last week, Liebowitz filed a motion for Hudson to withdraw as an attorney, and wouldn’t you know it? He did that wrong as well. From the docket:
NOTICE OF DEFICIENCY regarding 23 Motion to Withdraw. The signature block on this document does not comply with the local rules for local counsel. In addition, whenever an attorney of record in a case will be replaced by another attorney who is an active member of the bar of this court, a notice of substitution of counsel must be filed. The notice must (i) be signed by and contain a signature block for both attorneys in compliance with Local Civil Rule 10.1; (ii) identify the parties represented; (iii) verify that the attorney entering the case is aware of and will comply with all pending deadlines in the case, including proceeding with any scheduled trial or hearings; and (iv) be served on all parties. The moving attorney should file the notice of substitution through CM/ECF. The withdrawing attorney will remain attorney of record until this deficiency is corrected. See Local Rule 5.2(c). (Collins, S.)
I’m not even a lawyer and I know that the first thing you should be doing when filing documents is understanding the (often detailed and arcane) local rules before filing any documents. The court is already not happy with Liebowitz in this case, and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.
At this point, you kind of have to wonder who the hell still thinks it’s worth hiring Richard Liebowitz? There are plenty of good copyright lawyers out there. Ones who have not been frequently sanctioned by courts for doing things “no reasonable lawyer” would do.