On January 8, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments regarding whether copyright owners must completely register their works before filing a lawsuit. Several justices seemed skeptical of a claim that authors should be allowed to sue immediately after applying for a registration.
The argument came by way of a case brought by Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp., a journalism organization that is pushing for the justices to rule that authors can sue after they file an application for registration. Arguments were made over what lawmakers meant when they said a copyright must be “registered” before a lawsuit is filed. Some circuit courts say a work is registered as soon as an author applies for it, but others say the government must actually complete the application process before an author can sue.
Justice Stephen Breyer asked, “Do you drive without a driver's license when yours has expired because you wrote in to the registry of motor vehicles but they haven't yet licensed you? Can you change your sewer in the house with a man who has not gotten the approval from the local public health authority?”
Fourth Estate responded by stating: ““registration” is an action taken by the copyright owner rather than by the Copyright Office, meaning the requirement is met with the filing of the necessary paperwork.” Policy arguments, seconded by powerful amici like the Recording Industry Association of America, argued that copyright owners need to be able to go to court quickly.
Peter K. Stris, who argued for Wall-Street.com LLC, a website that was sued for using Fourth Estate's articles after a license had lapsed, stated: “There's no ambiguity in the statute but, rather, a profound dissatisfaction on the part of some stakeholders…the way we address that is we look at the text and we try and determine what it indicates Congress decided.”
Time will tell how the Supreme Court rules on this issue.
Fourth Estate is represented by Aaron M. Panner of Kellogg Hansen Todd Figel & Frederick PLLC.
Wall-Street.com is represented by Peter K. Stris of Stris & Maher LLP.
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.
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