Copyright laws are often complex and can be confusing. This confusion was no doubt in part because the Circuit Courts were not ruling consistently on points of law related to copyright protection. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in. In a rare example of unanimity, the high court determined that copyright infringement claims are only valid if the U.S. Copyright Office registers the copyright.
Different courts had different interpretations
Before this 2019 ruling, the Fifth and Ninth Circuit Courts determined that protection of a copyright began as early as the filing date of a business’s completed application. It needed to be valid, and all fees were paid. The Tenth and Eleventh Circuits Courts determined that protection began once the Copyright Office issued a Certificate of Registration – this typically was seven weeks after submitting the application. Even if the Copyright Office rejected the application, claimants were still sometimes able to file an infringement suit.
Why is the SCOTUS ruling important?
Some businesses or start-ups thought that taking the time to apply for a copyright or intellectual property protection was a waste, perhaps thinking they could always win in court because they believed that they were right. Moreover, the seven-week wait could seem like an eternity for some, particularly if there is already consumer confusion regarding original content or products, tech companies looking to protect code or protecting other quickly evolving products. Conversely, companies who believe there is an infringement will have a more difficult time proving it unless they have a registered copyright.
Litigation may be necessary
An attorney with experience handling business disputes can be a tremendous asset if there is the potential of going to court. A uniform decision about copyrights can reduce frivolous lawsuits that waste businesses’ time and resources, but it still may be necessary to protect a business’s interests through litigation.