The questions of good faith and intent can be hard to divine, and the line between earnest zeal and cynical gaming is a fine one. Lawyers are tasked with the vigorous defense of their clients' interests, and no one would begrudge an attorney for taking on as many as they feel they can responsibly handle. But does that ambition, if it can be termed that, cross at a certain point into a ploy to extract as much money from a flawed system as possible? At what point do certain behaviors cross that line from proponent of the law to one who violates and exploits that which they're meant to hold sacred?
Consider New York attorney Richard Liebowitz, of the Liebowitz Law Firm. Reuters offers a brief glimpse of Liebowitz's practice, noting that in less that four years since his admission to the New York bar, he has filed over twelve hundred copyright lawsuits in New York federal courts. The number is on its face shocking, and when taken in conjunction with the opinions and sanctions handed down by several federal judges, the question is therefore raised of whether or not Liebowitz is in fact a copyright troll.
The article highlights the number of Liebowitz's cases to be settled out of court, as well as several instances of reproach and sanction for violations ranging from bad-faith efforts across cases to failing to notify defendants of pre-trial conferences. Taken as a whole, the piece paints a picture of an attorney operating within the grey area of the law, pleading ignorance and poor judgment in an effort to dodge charges of malice. The ABA Journal makes further note of the putative measures meted out to Liebowitz and his clients, including $120,000 in attorneys' fees in a case ultimately determined to be fair use and one judge's order that Liebowitz take classes in ethics and professionalism.
But even the most damning stories can have two sides, and one person's villian is another's hero. Slate offers a picture of Liebowitz as an attorney advocating for and protecting photographers who would otherwise be subject to having their work stolen and infringed without credit or recompense. Given how fast and loose the internet can be with copyright, it's a problem that many photographers will face, and one that requires an attorney willing to do the work to get justice on their behalf; is it necessarily the concern of those photographers what Liebowitz's motivation is, or what tactics he employs, provided they get paid?
No one is ever just one thing, and multiple things can be true of a person at the same time. Richard Liebowitz can be both a copyright troll and a flawed champion of the rights of photographers, even if his motivations might not be what we consider pure. But regardless of how he is perceived, he faced a real challenge to his future in law if he continues to court the ire of judges.