A team of Wittliff | Cutter attorneys won a significant pretrial ruling on behalf of their client, Centerra Homes, in a copyright dispute.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, resolved the major point of law in the dispute regarding copyright damages, which was scheduled to go to trial in September. After the ruling, the parties settled the lawsuit, Alexander Stross v. Centerra Homes of Texas, LLC, et al., No. 1:17-CV-676-RP.

“We are always excited to try cases and we were certainly excited to bring Centerra’s case in front of a jury,” said Wittliff | Cutter partner John Saba, lead trial counsel for Centerra Homes. “Judge Pitman’s order, however, was a great pre-trial win for our clients because it correctly applied the law and limited the plaintiff’s damages.”

The plaintiff, photographer Alexander Stross sued Centerra for copyright infringement, alleging Centerra had misused 50 photographs he took of Centerra’s homes, and as a result he was entitled to recover up to $150,000 in statutory damages per photograph—totaling $7.5 million—plus attorneys’ fees.

In his pretrial order, Judge Pitman resolved in Centerra’s favor the core issue of whether Stross could recover on two counts or fifty counts of statutory damages. Judge Pitman found that, because Stross registered only two copyright applications, he was entitled to recover only two counts of statutory damages in the range of $1,500 to $60,000:

Stross’s photos were sold as sets for each home rather than marketed at the individual level. (Def.’s Brief, Dkt. 79, at 3). Independent from each other, these photos did not qualify as independent works under the economic value test. See Yellow Pages Photos, 795 F.3d at 1279 (“[N]umerous district courts have applied the independent economic value test to find that groups of photos should be collectively treated as compilations under § 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act and thus a single work for statutory damages purposes.”). Accordingly, the works qualify as a compilation under 17 U.S.C. § 504(c). Because he filed two copyright registrations, Stross is entitled to, at most, two counts of statutory damages in the event that the jury finds infringement. [emphasis added]

At Wittliff | Cutter, our litigators are a tight-knit group of partners who approach each matter with intensity, diligence, and creativity. We believe that the best results are achieved by small and dedicated teams who understand the client’s business and its objectives. Although we always strive to resolve matters in the most cost-effective manner possible, we are ready to battle in the courtroom, and if necessary, in the courts of appeals. We are always prepared to try each of our matters to verdict. Contact us for more information about our litigation practice.