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Registration of a copyright occurs, and a copyright claimant may commence a copyright infringement suit, when the Copyright Office registers a copyright. Upon registration of the copyright, however, a copyright owner can recover for infringement that occurred both before and after registration.
Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation (Fourth Estate), a news organization, licensed works to Wall-Street.com, LLC (Wall-Street), a news website. Fourth Estate sued Wall-Street and its owner for copyright infringement of news articles that Wall-Street failed to remove from its website after canceling the parties’ license agreement. Fourth Estate had filed applications to register the articles with the Copyright Office, but the Register of Copyrights had not acted on those applications based on law stating that no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until registration of the copyright claim has been made (Title 17 U. S. C. §411(a)). Thus, the District Court dismissed the complaint, and on appeal the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that registration had not been made under §411(a) until the Copyright Office registers a copyright.
Was dismissal of the complaint proper?
The U.S. Supreme Court held that registration of a copyright occurred in accordance with 17 U.S.C.S. § 411(a), and a copyright claimant could commence a copyright infringement suit, when the Copyright Office registered a copyright. Upon registration of the copyright, however, a copyright owner could recover for infringement that occurred both before and after registration. Thus, the Court concluded that the registration approach reflected the only satisfactory reading of § 411(a)’s text rejecting petitioner's application approach. It held that the meaning of “Registration has been made” was not when an application for registration was filed, but when the Register of Copyrights had registered a copyright after examining a properly filed application.