A work of creative authorship traditionally enjoyed copyright protection if it was an original work and it was fixed in a “tangible medium of expression.” However, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 ruled that Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, that there was no guaranteed protection unless the owner registered the work with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO).
The case in dispute
The Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp v. Wall-Street.com, LLC dispute involved WallStreet.com’s use of the Fourth Estate’s content. There was once a licensing agreement between the two entities, but it ended, and Fourth Estate requested that Wall-Street.com remove its content. Fourth Estate claimed infringement, but at the time of the claim, the content application was pending but not approved by the USCO.
Contradictory circuit rulings
One of the reasons the SOPAC heard the case was that Federal Circuit Courts contradicted each other. The Fifth and Ninth Circuit Courts allowed protection to begin at the filing date with the USCO as long as the paperwork was complete and fees were paid. Sometimes, people filed lawsuits even if the USCO denied the application. The Tenth and Eleventh Circuits ruled that the USCO must approve the application for the applicant to get trademark protection. The high court ruled that with the Tenth and Eleventh, thus setting a clear precedent.
Are you facing an infringement dispute?
In an ideal world, the plaintiff sends a cease-and-desist letter to the company accused of infringement, and they stop, not realizing that it was infringing. Still, it may not be an innocent oversight in the real world if the infringer sees a business opportunity. Conversely, the plaintiff may be overly zealous in its protection, perhaps even claiming infringement despite not registering with the USCO. Those with questions about their issue can consult an attorney handling IP disputes and litigation.