US : A copyright registration is required prior to filing a copyright infringement suit

The U.S. Supreme Court held on March 4, 2019 on a long-debated question. In “Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v., LLC” the Court decided that the copyright owner of a work created in the United States must first have registered it with the U.S. Copyright Office « Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. , LLC » du 4 mars 2019.

In this case, Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation, an online news producer, had granted copyright licenses on some of its content to, a news website. The license agreement required that the licensee delete any item produced by Fourth Estate after the license had expired, which refused to do. Therefore, Fourth Estate filed a copyright infringement suit against, which in response requested dismissal of the action, claiming that Fourth Estate could not take legal action before the Copyright Office had followed up on its application for registration. The district court granted this motion and the Court of appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Fourth Estate asked the United States Supreme Court to review the case, and its petition for certiorari was granted.

The debate focused on the interpretation of section 411 (a) of the Copyright Act (1976). This article states that “no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title”.

The question was whether, in order to bring an infringement action, it was sufficient to have filed an application for registration, payed the fee, and provided copies of the work, or if the Copyright Office had to have already granted the application for registration. The Supreme Court held that the fact that registration “has been made” means that the Copyright Office has registered the copyright or has definitively refused to register it, after having examined the duly filed application. This judgment therefore highlights the importance of the registration procedure before the Copyright Office.

In this respect, we recommend applying for copyright registration as soon as possible. Indeed, an earlier registration offers important advantages for right’s owners. Indeed, if the registration is made within five years of the publication of the work, it has probative value. If the registration is made within three months of the publication of the work, a right’s holder may be granted statutory damages and attorney’s fees, not merely damages. In addition, once registration has been completed, the copyright owner may object to the importation of counterfeit works into the United States.

Therefore, the right to file an infringement suit to protect rights is only one of the advantages granted by the Copyright Act to copyrights holders. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, copyright owners must now pay close attention to the Copyright Office’s examination delays. It takes approximately seven months to examine an application. Exceptionally, an accelerated procedure, called “special handling”, allows the Office to rule within five working days. However, this accelerated procedure carries higher fees. Therefore, it is in the holder’s interest to anticipate having to defend his rights. The earlier the application for registration is filed, the more likely the applicant will be able to defend his rights by filing a copyright infringement suit.

Under section 411 of the Copyright Act, if registration is refused, the applicant may nevertheless file an infringement action if a notice to that effect is sent to the Copyright Office, along with a copy of the complaint. The Office can choose within sixty days to become a party to the action with respect to the issue of registrability of the copyright claim. . A right’s holder can thus take legal action even if the absence of registration makes his situation more precarious.

In conclusion, we note that it is in the best interests of rights holders in the U.S. to register their copyrights. Furthermore, despite the United States’ accession to the 1886 Berne Convention in 1989, this text is not directly applicable in U.S. law, under the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988. As a result, rights holders from a country party to the Berne Convention, such as France, have to register their rights with the Copyright Office in order to be able to invoke all the rights conferred by American copyright law. This registration is particularly recommended if the owner wishes to exploit his work through licensing agreements (e.g. software), or if the work is to be distributed online (e.g. music).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]