U.S. Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Copyright Registrations are required prior to filing a Copyright Infringement lawsuit in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-street.com, LLC, No. 17-571, 586 U.S. ___ (March 4, 2019). This settles the division between the circuits in which some courts allowed an infringement action to proceed prior to filing a copyright application and prior to receiving the registration certificate.
Copyrights are a reward for the artists contribution to society and are based in the U.S. Constitution. The constitution specifically states that “Congress shall promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” This clause is referred to as the Patent and Copyright Clause.
Under the Constitution, the artists receive a reward based upon creating a work of art. The rights under copyright law vests the moment of tangible creation. However, under the law enacted by Congress, an artist cannot file a copyright infringement lawsuit until registration of the copyright claim has been obtained. See 17 U.S.C. 411(a). Until yesterday, there was a split among the federal courts regarding whether a registration was required or if simply filing an application was enough.
Ruling: Copyright Registration Required
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the text of the law makes it clear that registration is required or if refused, a refusal is required prior to bringing a claim to enforce copyrights. At the time the law was created, the typical pending period was a couple of weeks in 1956, it now takes many months, with the typical period taking up to seven months. While the court appeared to empathize with the copyright applicants that the extended application period could negatively impact the three-year statute of limitations for copyright claims, the copyright owner would have ample time to sue after the Copyright Office’s determination on registration. Alternatively, the party could file the registration on an expedited basis and pay the additional handling fee which could allow for the filing of an infringement claim within five days.
As a result of yesterday’s ruling, if your copyright has value or could have value, you should consider filing a copyright application as soon as possible. In some cases, you may also consider preregistering your copyright claim. If you would like to speak with one of our copyright attorneys to discuss the implications of this ruling on your Copyrights, please contact us at 1-888-472-0020.