Supreme Court to Clarify Meaning of Registration under Copyright Act
The US Supreme Court granted Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation’s petition for certiorari. Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation v. Wall-Street.com, Case No. 17-571 (Supr. Ct. June 28, 2018). The question presented is:
Whether the “registration of [a] copyright claim has been made” within the meaning of 17 U.S.C. § 411(a) when the copyright holder delivers the required application, deposit, and fee to the Copyright Office, as the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the 5th and 9th Circuits have held, or only once the Copyright Office acts on that application, as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 10th and, in the decision below, the 11th Circuits have held.
Fourth Estate is a news organization that produces online journalism, licensing articles to websites but retaining the copyright to the articles. Wall-Street.com, a news website, obtained licenses to a number of articles produced by Fourth Estate. The license agreement required Wall-Street to remove all of the content produced by Fourth Estate from its website before Wall-Street cancelled its account. However, when Wall-Street cancelled its account, it continued to display the articles produced by Fourth Estate. Fourth Estate filed a copyright infringement claim, alleging the suit was proper because Fourth Estate had filed applications to register the articles. Wall-Street moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the Copyright Act permits a suit for copyright infringement only after the Copyright Office approves or denies the application to register the copyright and simply filing an application does not permit the suit. The district court agreed, dismissing the complaint without prejudice and the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.