Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall, LLC, et al

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: March 4, 2019
  • Case #: 17-571
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
  • Full Text Opinion

Registration of a copyright, for purposes of 17 U.S.C. §411(a), occurs when the Register of Copyrights registers a copyright. A copyright owner gains exclusive rights in his work upon its creation and may, upon registration, recover for a copyright infringement that occurred before registration under 17 U.S.C. §501(b) but must thereafter pursue registration pursuant to §411(a).

Petitioner licensed works to Respondent’s news website. The parties entered into a license agreement which required Respondent to remove all content produced by Petitioner from its website before cancelling the agreement. Petitioner had previously filed applications to register the articles with the Copyright Office, but those applications were not acted on by the Register of Copyrights. Respondent failed to remove certain articles post-cancellation, and Petitioner sued Respondent for copyright infringement. 17 U.S.C. §411(a) precludes institution of any action for copyright infringement until registration of the copyright claim has been made. The District Court dismissed Petitioner’s complaint. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that enforcement of copyright cannot occur until registration if is complete under §411(a). The Register of Copyrights thereafter refused to register the articles. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a division among U.S. Courts of Appeals on when registration occurs for purposes of §411(a). The Supreme Court held that registration, for purposes of §411(a), occurs when the Copyright Office registers a copyright, though a copyright owner may, upon registration, recover for infringement that occurred before and after registration was completed. The Court reasoned that the Copyright Act of 1976 posits that a copyright author gains exclusive rights in his work contemporaneously with the work’s creation. 17 U.S.C. §106. Thus, a copyright owner can institute an action for infringement of those rights under §501(b), though only after complying with the registration requirement of 411(a). While there are exceptions, they do not apply in the present case. AFFIRMED.

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