The United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling affirming the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, holding that Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act allows plaintiffs to sue for copyright infringement only after the Copyright Office has issued a final action on an application for registration.
The opinion, written by Justice Ginsburg, settles a circuit split over the “registration” requirement for suit under the Copyright Act. Some circuits followed the “application approach,” meaning plaintiffs could sue as soon as they filed their application with the Copyright Office. Other circuits followed the “registration approach,” meaning plaintiffs had to wait to file suit until they received a final decision from the Copyright Office.
The Supreme Court’s 9-0 decision aligns with the amici curiae brief prepared by IP Clinic student attorneys, Hailie Ingman, Ben Kessler, Andrew Levey, Ted Sotland, and Mariana Viera under the supervision of Professors Hillary Brill and Peter Jaszi. The brief argued that the registration approach upholds the standards of copyright quality and respects the Copyright Office’s expertise in issues of copyrightability. Furthermore, the registration approach supports the institutional history of the Copyright Office and the importance of the registration process as “a screening mechanism that safeguards against the proliferation of unfounded assertions of copyright.”