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The Effective Date of copyright registration is important to know because without it (17 USC §411(a) of the Copyright Act), a court does not have jurisdiction to hear a copyright infringement case.   In Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v Wall-Street.Com, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that registration of a work exists when the Copyright Office registers the copyright in the work, not when an applicant submits an application.  While it is great to have clarity, this answer does not solve the dilemma of a copyright owner wanting to request the special relief of statutory damages and attorney fees (17 USC §504(c)) against an infringer because such remedies are available only if registration precedes the infringement. 

Given the Supreme Court’s interpretation of what constitutes registration, how will the §412 three-month leeway period for registration for newly published works be affected? Under Section 412, a copyright owner has basically 90 days from first publication to register a work in order to claim statutory damages and attorney fees.  Once that time period passes, the owner must have secured registration prior to an infringement in order to obtain such special relief.

However, even under the best of circumstances, it can take at least 3 to 7 months between filing an application and receiving notice of registration from the Copyright Office. In the meantime, infringing activities can take place whether the work in question has been newly published or the owner is seeking registration after the 90-day deadline.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that staffing and budgetary constraints limit the timeliness of the Copyright Office’s action and left that problem to be solved by Congress. But is that really the only solution?

Section 410 (d) seems to permit a court to determine the effective date for registration and thus whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case. Section 410(d) states:

The effective date of a copyright registration is the day on which an application, deposit, and fee, which are later determined by the Register of Copyrights or by a court of competent jurisdiction to be acceptable for registration, have all been received in the Copyright Office.

In Fourth Estate, the Supreme Court narrowly reads as to whether a trial court can independently determine the all-important effective date question which goes to the heart of whether the court can hear the case.  However, if in fact the three criteria have been met, namely a complete application, proper fee and deposit have all been submitted, and the only reason why registration is not considered to preexist an infringement is because the Copyright Office did not get to the application, why should the plaintiff be penalized, especially as the excuse grows out of Congress’ failure adequately to fund the Copyright Office.

As all courts have the jurisdiction to determine whether they have jurisdiction to hear a matter, why is a federal court not permitted to do so in this situation?

The effective date of copyright registration is important to know because without it (17 USC §411(a) of the Copyright Act), a court does not have jurisdiction to hear a copyright infringement case.  Recently, in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v Wall-Street.Com, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that registration of a work exists when the Copyright Office registers the copyright in the work, not when an applicant submits an application. While it is great to have clarity, this answer does not solve the dilemma of a copyright owner wanting to request the special relief of statutory damages and attorney fees (17 USC §504(c)) against an infringer because such remedies are available only if registration precedes the infringement.

Given the Supreme Court’s interpretation of what constitutes registration, how will the §412 three-month leeway period for registration for newly published works be affected? Under Section 412, a copyright owner has basically 90 days from first publication to register a work in order to claim statutory damages and attorney fees. Once that time period passes, the owner must have secured registration prior to an infringement in order to obtain such special relief.

However, even under the best of circumstances, it can take at least 3 to 7 months between filing an application and receiving notice of registration from the Copyright Office. In the meantime, infringing activities can take place whether the work in question has been newly published or the owner is seeking registration after the 90-day deadline.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that staffing and budgetary constraints limit the timeliness of the Copyright Office’s action and left that problem to be solved by Congress. But is that really the only solution?

Section 410 (d) of the Copyright Act appears to permit a court to determine the effective date for registration and thus whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case. Section 410(d) states:

“The effective date of a copyright registration is the day on which an application, deposit, and fee, which are later determined by the Register of Copyrights or by a court of competent jurisdiction to be acceptable for registration, have all been received in the Copyright Office.”

In Fourth Estate, the Supreme Court narrowly reads Section 410 (d) as to whether a trial court can independently determine the all-important effective date question which goes to the heart of whether the court can hear the case. However, if in fact the three requirements have been met, namely a complete application, proper fee and deposit have all been submitted, and the only reason why registration is not considered to preexist an infringement is because the Copyright Office did not get to the application, why should the plaintiff be penalized, especially as the excuse grows out of Congress’ failure adequately to fund the Copyright Office.

As all courts have the jurisdiction to determine whether they have jurisdiction to hear a matter, why is a federal court not permitted to do so in this situation?

Read The Ruling.

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