YouTube personality Carl Benjamin—known on the platform as Sargon of Akkad—won attorneys’ fees in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday after successfully defending a copyright suit over his mocking of a video taken at Hillary Clinton’s election night party.
Comedian Akilah Hughes’ lawsuit was objectively unreasonable and meant to “inflict financial harm on Benjamin and to raise her own profile in the process,” the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said.
Hughes attended the Clinton campaign’s election night party in Manhattan in 2016 and posted a 10-minute video of party footage and commentary to YouTube called “We Thought She Would Win.”
Benjamin posted a video called “SJW Levels of Awareness” that used two minutes of clips from Hughes’s video. “SJW” is an acronym for “social justice warrior,” which the court has said is “routinely used by Benjamin in a demeaning context to belittle proponents of perceived liberal social policies and stances.”
Hughes sued Benjamin for copyright infringement, and the court found in February that Benjamin’s video made fair use of Hughes’ video as transformative criticism and commentary.
The court awarded Benjamin over $38,000 in attorneys’ fees Wednesday, finding Hughes’ claims were objectively unreasonable, and that this was “clear from the face of the complaint and the videos at the heart of the dispute.”
It was “unmistakable that the edited video was designed to highlight and critique Hughes’s alleged lack of self-awareness, not to pass off her work as Benjamin’s,” the court said.
Hughes also brought the suit for an improper purpose, the court said. According to the court, Hughes admitted on Twitter and her website that she intended to bankrupt Benjamin and “use copyright laws to silence her political opponents and critics.” Hughes’ social media posts about the case also suggested that she “intended to sensationalize the litigation to elevate her own public profile and achieve a secondary financial gain,” the court said.
The fact that Benjamin’s GoFundMe campaign for his legal fees raised three times as much as he ended up spending was found to be irrelevant.
“Put simply, a litigant’s good luck in having the financial wherewithal to defend against a frivolous suit—whether because of insurance, a GoFundMe campaign, a rich uncle, or a pro bono lawyer—does not automatically immunize the losing party from the consequences of her actions,” the court said.
Judge Richard J. Sullivan wrote the opinion.
Grant Attorneys at Law PLLC represented Hughes. Mullen PC represented Benjamin.
The case is Hughes v. Benjamin, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:17-cv-06493, 8/5/20.