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“Copyright troll” barred from practising law after repeated court violations

By | Published on Wednesday 2 December 2020


American lawyer Richard Liebowitz, who was dubbed a “copyright troll” by one judge last year, has been suspended from practising law in New York’s Southern District for violating court orders and repeatedly lying under oath.

Liebowitz has made a name for himself in recent years by filing hundreds of lawsuits on behalf of independent photographers. Generally, he has targeted large online companies, accusing them of unlawfully using his clients’ images, although he has gone after some celebrities too – last year settling a case with Justin Bieber over an image posted to Instagram.

While the lawyer has said that he is simply protecting the rights of photographers whose images get used with licence, he has often drawn ire from the courts. A judge in one case called him a “known copyright troll” and ordered the attorney to attend a training course on “ethics and professionalism”. He has also been sanctioned by courts numerous times.

In one case this summer, he was ordered to pay $100,000 in sanctions for various violations, including falsely claiming that the copyright in the image he was suing over had been formally registered when the case was filed. In the US, of course, works need to be registered with the Copyright Office to get full protection under law.

The judge in that case also said that, given Liebowitz’s “deplorable record”, he should be referred to the court’s Grievance Committee. That committee has now considered the case, and deemed that Leibowitz should be barred from practising law in the Southern District, initially on a temporary basis.

In its ruling, according to Law360, the committee said: “After careful deliberation, the committee is unanimously of the view that the charges are strongly supported by the record. What is more, the committee is unanimously of the view that interim disciplinary measures against [Leibowitz] must be put in place immediately”.

“The record in this case – which includes [Leibowitz’s] repeated disregard for orders from this court and his unwillingness to change despite nineteen formal sanctions and scores of other admonishments and warnings from judges across the country – leads the committee to the view that recurrence is highly likely”.

In a separate case over the lawyer’s failure to adhere to court orders this week, it was actually ruled that Leibowitz would not receive any further sanctions. But only because the judge overseeing the case reckoned “it is far from clear that there is any additional sanction that would serve to deter him” from failing to comply with the court.

It remains to be seen if barring him from practising law entirely proves to be any kind of deterrent.