You may have valid ownership rights to copyright without a copyright registration. However, Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act makes it clear that no lawsuit may be brought regarding copyright infringement until “registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.” The courts, however, have been split regarding the specifics of this provision. It is clear that a copyright infringement suit may not be brought until the copyright is registered. However, is copyright registered when an application is filed or when the actual registration certificate is issued?
The Eleventh Circuit asserted that copyright is not registered until the Copyright Office has issued a registration certificate. The Ninth Circuit has followed the approach that a copyright infringement suit may bring as soon as the application was filed. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled on this subject.
Supreme Court Rules in Copyright Owner Case
The case before the Supreme Court was the result of a licensing situation between the plaintiff, Fourth Estate, and the defendant, Wall-Street.com. The plaintiff had licensed some content on a limited-time basis to the defendant. At the end of the allotted time, the defendant continued using the content on their website in breach of the licensing agreement. The registration of the copyright content had not yet occurred and so the plaintiff filed the registration application with the Copyright Office and filed suit against the defendant at the same time. The district court dismissed the case as no certificate had yet been issued. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed and the case went on to the Supreme Court.
On March 4, 2019, the United States Supreme court unanimously issued a verdict in the case of Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.Com, LLC. The opinion, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, stated that, with some exceptions, a copyright owner must have a copyright registration certificate issued by the Copyright Office prior to filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement. This affirms the approach the Eleventh Circuit took and it has significant implications for copyright owners.
Mostly due to a restricted budget causing administrative delays, there is an average wait of seven months before you can obtain a copy certificate. This means that waiting for the issuance of the certificate would take a significant portion of the allotted three-year statute of limitations on these kinds of claims. With copyright infringement often moving rather quickly as we live in a digital age, waiting for the ability to actually file suit may prove problematic in many instances.
Trusted Copyright Legal Counsel
The recent ruling by the Supreme Court regarding when you can file a copyright infringement action has a big impact on copyright law. Attorney Thomas M. Lancia stays on top of the most recent developments in the law in order to effectively and zealously advocate for his clients. Contact Attorney Lancia today.