18 Mar Breaking News: New Supreme Court Copyright Decision Announced
In breaking news this month, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a copyright case called the 4th Estate Publishing Company v. Wallstreet.com. If you’re interested in the case opinion, you can check it out here.
For the most part, this opinion is a conversation that the court was having about statutory interpretation, mostly about what statutes mean and why they mean what they do. Be forewarned, the Supreme Court really got into the weeds in this opinion. In this particular case, it is the overarching point that is of value to potential copyright holders. There has been dissension among Circuit Court Appeals around the country about whether you needed a registration or if it was sufficient to simply have applied for registration.
The Supreme Court settled that uncertainty in a 9-0 decision. Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion in this case and it settled into a very simple point: if you are going to sue for copyright infringement in federal court, under the Copyright Act you must have a registration from the copyright office.
Some critiques were made that it takes a ridiculous amount of time to receive a copyright registration, currently hovering around ten months for total processing time. Looking back in history, it took just a few weeks in the 50’s and 60’s. The court noted that the length of time is a function of the massive amounts of media that are now being generated, plus staffing and budgetary issues that Congress could address, but the court is in no position to fix.
So what’s the upshot? At the core, in order to obtain the right under the statute for copyright infringement, a copyright owner must have the official registration. You do have to apply to the Copyright Office. Contrary to common knowledge, you can shortcut the processing time if there is a litigation (potential or pending) and pay an expedited fee. Copyright fees are $55 for most registrations, but if you want to expedite it (because you have a potential lawsuit pending for example), you’ll be paying an $800 to expedite registration.
The decision does not undermine the notion that a creator has a bundle of rights that we call copyright (still attaches when the idea is expressed in a fixed medium). The Supreme Court did say that it is only the right to sue in federal court that requires the registration.
In the meantime, if you are somebody that creates material and is subject to potential infringement, you can expedite your application in order to get the copyright registration before you go in to sue in federal court.
If you have any questions about copyrights, registrations, and infringement, send us a message.
Want to take a further look into the case? Check it out here.