A recent Law 360 story by Aislinn Keely, “Bored Ape NFT Copycats Owe Yuga Labs $7M in Atty Fees", reports that the artists accused of ripping off the Bored Ape Yacht Club non-fungible token collection have been ordered to pay creator Yuga Labs more than $7 million in attorney fees and costs, despite their concerns that Yuga's counsel at Fenwick & West LLP overbilled in the case.
In an order, U.S. District Judge John F. Walter awarded Yuga Labs just shy of $7 million in fees and an additional $300,000 for the costs associated with three experts deposed during the case, adopting the recommendation from Special Master Margaret M. Morrow. The figure eclipses the $1.6 million in damages awarded to Yuga Labs when artists Ryder Ripps and Jeremy Cahen were found to have infringed Yuga Labs' flagship NFT collection.
Ripps and Cahen agreed to the fees to wrap up the case, but noted they may raise qualms about the fees on appeal. "The parties seek to avoid further litigation concerning the amount of Yuga Labs' fee award, and defendants seek to preserve their objections to the amount of the fee award ... for purposes of appeal," the order says.
In a November joint statement to Morrow, Yuga Labs reported that its attorney fees were more than $12.6 million, and additional $500,000 in costs and expert witness fees, but said it would only seek $7.5 million in fees and roughly $300,000 in costs. It doubled back to the $12 million figure when it couldn't find common ground with Ripps and Cahen, who said a reasonable total award would be $455,000. In their objection, Ripps and Cahen argued that Yuga Labs' counsel at Fenwick maintains billing practices that "artificially increased hours, resulting in unreasonable fees."
They argued that the more than 14,000 hours billed over the two-year dispute is more than 20 times greater than comparable cases in the district, and that Fenwick used practices including duplicative time entries, where more than one attorney billed for efforts on the same task, and block billing, which bills multiple tasks in one billing entry.
The duo also argued that the hourly rates of $1,290 for a partner, $1,135 for a counsel, $1,030 for a fifth-year associate, $780 for a first-year associate and $515 for a paralegal are much higher compared to those charged by other attorneys in the Central District of California.
But Morrow found the Central District of California has approved rates in the general range of those billed by Fenwick, and while the firm's figures are high, they fell within the top end of the report referenced by Ripps and Cahen. She did, however, recommend that the court adjust the paralegal rates down to $450 for 2022 and $500 for 2023.
While she didn't take issue with the block billing practices of the Fenwick attorneys, she did note that many of the descriptions in the time records related to duplicative billing were "so vague that it is difficult to discern what tasks were being performed or how they advanced the case," recommending a 45% reduction of fees from $12.6 million to the $6.9 million the court ultimately adopted.
In their December objection, Ripps and Cahen also claimed Yuga Labs racked up billable hours by litigating the case "in an unreasonable way," including unproductive settlement discussions, increasing its damages demand ahead of trial and a "frivolous" motion for sanctions.
"Yuga, a four-billion dollar company fueled by its animosity towards Mr. Ripps and Mr. Cahen, retained a huge litigation team at an expensive firm to wage a yearlong scorched earth litigation campaign against them," they said in the objection. On the flip side, Yuga Labs argued the pair's own litigation strategy needlessly complicated and dragged out the case by repeatedly attempting to relitigate issues the court rejected.