Courts Remain Split on Registration Prerequisite for Copyright Lawsuits

Courts Remain Split on Registration Prerequisite for Copyright Lawsuits

The U.S. Copyright Act, specifically Section 411(a), generally mandates copyright registration – or lack thereof – to exist before a copyright action may be filed in court. Put simpler, while registration is not required to establish valid copyright ownership, it is before you can bring a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court. So the pressing issue before courts across the country has been whether a claimant need to be registered – or be refused registration – before filing action. In typical legal fashion, the answer depends. In this scenario, it depends on when it is believed that “registration” occurred. As a result, there has been inconsistent court decisions resulting in forum shopping.


Registration Approach

Most recently, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed a copyright claim earlier this year. The case involved a plaintiff that had licensed specific syndicated news stories to the defendant who, when the license ran out, refused to take them down from its website. Because the plaintiff had yet to register the stories with the Copyright Office but it did not want to wait to file a lawsuit, it applied and filed simultaneously. Its complaint alleged applications to register the copyrights at issue. The Eleventh Circuit found this insufficient.

 The court followed the Tenth Circuit’s rulings. The registration approach relies on a plain language reading of the statute; until you receive a formal registration certificate you cannot file a copyright lawsuit.


Application Approach

 On the other hand, the Ninth Circuit follows the application approach that finds the statute’s definition of “registration” to be ambiguous. This is because some sections indicate no prerequisite to registration beyond a completed application. Furthermore, even if the application for registration is rejected, the plaintiff will be able to sue. The court finds no need for wait for a formality that the Act was intended to eliminate.

 In taking this approach, the Ninth Circuit is following a holding from the Fifth Circuit as well as dicta from the Eighth Circuit. The First and Second Circuits have not rendered decisions on this issue, while the Seventh Circuit has shown support for both approaches.


Intellectual Property Help

 If you or someone you know has any questions regarding copyright registration, copyright infringement, or any other intellectual property-related issues, contact a knowledgeable local intellectual property attorney right away. Do not wait to learn about your legal options and make sure you are preserving your right under the law.

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