U.S. Supreme Court to Resolve Issue of Copyright Registration

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a case which should clarify the longstanding question of whether a copyright owner requires a federal copyright registration in order to bring a federal suit. The Supreme Court will hear the case (Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC) and is expected to clarify the issue when it begins its next session in October.

This development may likely underscore the importance of securing a U.S. copyright registration as soon as possible, if you don’t already have one. Any delay in securing official registration status may further expose a body of work to infringement or misappropriation to the point that it’s too late to recover adequate monetary damages.

Registering a copyright (which is the exclusive legal right given to an originator or an assignee to print, perform, film or record literary, artistic or musical material) is especially advisable because the federal courts have historically been divided on the issue. That, in turn, causes continued confusion for the public as to how most effectively (and when) to protect copyrights. For example, the Tenth and Eleventh circuits take the approach that an issued copyright registration is required to bring a lawsuit. There are others, such as the Fifth and Ninth circuits, that believe merely filing an application to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is sufficient to initiate a federal suit. Then there are circuits, such as the Sixth Circuit (which includes Ohio), that have not taken a formal position on the issue. However, the lower district courts in the Sixth Circuit appear to generally take the stance that a copyright registration is needed. Lastly, the U.S. Copyright Office itself has weighed in and believes the registration approach is appropriate.

The time it takes to secure a copyright registration can be more than a year from the time of filing an application. So, it is prudent for copyright owners to consider filing early and often, especially since the process is relatively inexpensive.

If you have copyright questions or concerns, please reach out to our Intellectual Property team. We’d be happy to help.

Sean Mellino is an attorney with Walter | Haverfield and concentrates on intellectual property law. He can be reached at smellino@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2925.