Copyright Owners Can Not Sue Until After Registration of Copyrighted Work: SCOTUS

On March 4, 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the case of Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com.  The United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a copyright infringement suit can not be filed until after the Copyright Office has granted a registration for the work in question.

The case hinged on the interpretation of 17 U.S.C. §411 (a), which states, in part:

“Except for an action brought for a violation of the rights of the author under section 106A(a), and subject to the provisions of subsection (b),[1] no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.”

Fourth Estate argued that “registration…has been made” when the copyright owner has filed an application, submitted the materials, and paid the fee. Wall-Street.com argued that a copyright registration is good when the Copyright Office grants the copyright owner registration. The Supreme Court decided that, “registration” refers to the Copyright Office’s act granting registration.

“For the reasons stated, we conclude that ‘registration . . . has been made’ within the meaning of 17 U. S. C. §411(a) not when an application for registration is filed, but when the Register has registered a copyright after examining a properly filed application.”

The United States Supreme Court ruling is rather straightforward and reasonable. It would make sense that an infringement lawsuit can only be started after being granted the registration from the Copyright Office.

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