Supreme Court Rules Works Must Be Registered Before Copyright Owners May Sue

Contact: Howard G. Zaharoff, Morse Barnes-Brown Pendleton
Posted Apr 1, 2019


On March 4, 2019, the Supreme Court unanimously held in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v., LLC, et al., that the statute requiring copyright owners to register their works before suing means that no suit for infringement can be brought until the Copyright Office officially approves the copyright claimant’s application for registration (or officially rejects the application), and that merely filing the application is not enough.

What should come as relief to copyright owners, however, is the Court’s reminder that copyright owners may still recover statutory damages and attorney’s fees for copyright infringement that occurred before registration … provided they file their application within three months after first publication of the work. However, with a three-year statute of limitations for the recovery of damages, this opinion (written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) underscores the critical importance of copyright owners registering their copyrights in a timely manner.

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