On Monday, March 4, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling holding that a copyright owner cannot file a lawsuit for copyright infringement until the U.S. Copyright Office has registered the work at issue. This decision resolves a long-standing circuit split over whether it was sufficient to have a copyright application on file with the Copyright Office or whether an issued registration is prerequisite to bringing a lawsuit.
The Supreme Court reasoned that because the Copyright Act specifically requires that a work be registered before a lawsuit is filed, the Copyright Office must take action some action. Therefore, it is not sufficient for the copyright owner to merely file an application before bringing a lawsuit. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that waiting for a copyright registration to issue would prejudice the rights of copyright owners, particularly in light of the Copyright Office’s seventh month average processing time.
This decision underscores the importance of proactively seeking copyright protection for copyrighted works to avoid having to wait for a copyright registration to issue when faced with a major infringement. The case is Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com LLC et al., case number 17-571, at the Supreme Court of the United States. A more detailed analysis of the implications of this decision for copyright owners will follow.