Breaking Down Fourth Estate: What the Supreme Court Ruling Means for Creators

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important copyright decision in Fourth Estate v. Wall-Street.com regarding the meaning of “registration” under section 411 of the Copyright Act. Section 411 states, in part:

“…no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.”

In other words, before a copyright owner can file an infringement suit, the work at issue must first be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. This is not a new requirement. In fact, this has been the case since the current copyright statute was enacted in 1976.

The issue before the court was whether the meaning of the phrase “registration … has been made” under section 411 means 1) that the copyright owner needs to have submitted a completed application, deposit, and fee, as adopted by the Fifth and Ninth Circuits OR 2) that the registration application has been “acted on”—i.e., the application has been approved or denied by the Copyright Office—as adopted by the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits.

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