March 4, 2019
Decided March 4, 2019
Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, No. 17-571
Today, the Supreme Court held 9-0 that the Copyright Act requires copyright owners to wait until the Copyright Office has approved or denied an application for registration before bringing an infringement action.
The Copyright Act allows the owner of a copyright claim to register the claim with the Copyright Office. Section 411(a) of the Act provides that a suit for copyright infringement may not be filed “until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made” or “refused.” Petitioner Fourth Estate, a news organization, filed applications with the Copyright Office to register copyright claims for articles written by its journalists. Before the Copyright Office acted on the applications, Fourth Estate sued Wall-street.com for copyright infringement for displaying the articles on its website without a license. Wall-street.com moved to dismiss the suit as premature, arguing that Section 411(a) barred Fourth Estate from suing for infringement until the Copyright Office approved or denied its application for copyright registration.
Has a copyright claim been “regist[ered]” with the Copyright Office, so that the copyright owner can commence an infringement suit, when the copyright owner delivers the required application, deposit, and fee to the Copyright Office, or only once the Copyright Office acts on that application.
A copyright claim is not “regist[ered]” with the Copyright Office, and the copyright owner may not file an infringement suit, until the Copyright Office has processed the application.
“If infringement occurs before a copyright owner applies for registration, that owner may eventually recover damages for the past infringement, as well as the infringer’s profits. . . . She must simply apply for registration and receive the Copyright Office’s decision on her application before instituting suit.”
Justice Ginsburg, writing for the unanimous Court
What It Means:
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