A federal judge in New York sent a punishing message to persistent litigants seeking to prolong claims that have proved without merit: Just stop now. And, by the way, he told them, pay up for attorney fees for opposing counsel.

U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein has ordered Mayimba Music Inc. to fork over $400,000 in legal fees and nontaxable expenses resulting from its curious copyright infringement case against Sony/ATV Latin Music Publishing LLC and Sony/ATV Discos Music Publishing LLC over pop star Shakira’s hit song Loca. The court found that Mayimba had presented dubious evidence and failed to prove infringement.

A questionable victory

Mayimba sued Sony in 2012 over Loca, asserting the song, which became an English-language hit, was ripped-off from Ramon Arias Vasquez’s recording Loca Con Su Tiguere. Mayimba won in a 2014 bench trial, with the federal court finding it had a valid copyright that Sony infringed.

But in December, 2014, Sony moved to partially vacate that ruling based on newly discovered evidence: the recording company and its counsel showed that a key tape used by Mayimba was not created in 1998, as the court had been told, but more likely in 2010. The court found that this and other flaws in the case easily could have been discovered before presentation to a judge; the court also expressed unhappiness about the plaintiff filings and handling of the case. In April, 2015, the court suspended its previous finding for Mayimba, ruling that its evidence was suspect. The judge said he would conduct a hearing on Mayimba’s evidence to determine if, as he wrote, the plaintiffs had “attempted to commit a fraud upon this court, going so far as to fabricate evidence and to commit perjury.”

Sanctions, fees

Besides overturning the verdict favoring Mayimba, the judge in March imposed sanctions against it and its lawyers, James Sheinbaum, and his firm, Borstein & Sheinbaum. The court more recently “shifted” on to these sanctioned parties opposing counsel’s costs. He ordered them to split payment of $350,000 in attorney fees and $50,000 in non-taxable costs to Sony, whose lawyers said they had spent 1,231 hours on the litigation due to the“the complexity of the case and the voluminous record assembled over four years of litigation.”

The award was less than Sony’s request of $678,00 in attorney’s fees, and $65,000 in nontaxable costs. The court found the “hourly rates of the … attorneys involved in the matter, Barry Slotnick at $741.80, Tai Dickstein at $607.46, and Linna Chen at $553.50, after discounts, are commensurate with the rates approved for similarly qualified attorneys in the jurisdiction.” The judge looked to Amaprop Ltd v. Indiabulls Fin. Servs. Ltd. where a court had approved $761/hour for a senior partner rate.

The court, in awarding attorney fees, also told Mayimba to stop trying to argue its copyright case, as it had sought to do with new lawyers.