Navigating Recent Supreme Court Insights on Copyright Law: A Game-Changer for Copyright Owners

On March 4, 2019, the Supreme Court delivered a seemingly subtle but impactful ruling in the realm of copyright law, eliminating a minority view within specific federal circuits. This ruling reshaped the landscape surrounding the enforcement of copyright claims under the Copyright Act of 1976, introducing nuances that demand attention.

Understanding Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act

The Copyright Act bestows “exclusive rights” to copyright owners upon the creation of their “original works of authorship.” However, enforcing these rights requires compliance with Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act. Generally, a copyright owner must fulfill the requirements of this section before initiating legal action. Although there are exceptions allowing pre-registration infringement claims, even in such cases, eventual registration remains essential for maintaining a lawsuit.

17 U.S.C § 411(a) requires, in part:

[N]o civil action for infringement of the copyright of any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.

That seems to be very clear. (Let’s ignore what preregistration is for the moment, as registration is still required.)

Circuit Split Resolved: Supreme Court’s Verdict

The division revolved around the interpretation of the phrase “registration … has been made.” The Fourth Estate Pub. Benefit Corp. v. case asserted that registration happens when the Register of Copyrights registers a copyright. In contrast, Cosmetic Ideas, Inc. v. IAC/Interactivecorp contended that registration occurs when the copyright claimant’s “complete application” for registration is received by the Copyright Office.

The Supreme Court, through Justice Ginsburg, clarified that it is the Register’s action that triggers a copyright owner’s entitlement to sue. The majority view, now affirmed, is that copyright registration must be recorded before pursuing legal action.

Implications and Strategic Considerations

This ruling underscores the importance of timely copyright registration. Filing applications with foresight, Verna Law assists in navigating the U.S. Copyright Office’s regulations, ensuring proper deposit copies, and addressing publication requirements. Proactive filing provides the necessary registration or official refusal, empowering swift action against infringers.

  • Expedite Your Protection: In anticipation of potential litigation, expedited copyright applications can be filed, with Verna Law’s expertise ensuring a rapid process. While the expedited fee is $800, applicants typically secure a copyright registration within a week, enhancing the ability to initiate a lawsuit promptly.
  • Maximizing Damages: Notably, infringement post-registration entitles the copyright owner to substantial damages, including statutory damages, attorney fees, and costs—beyond mere lost profits. This ruling amplifies the significance of timely copyright registration for enhanced legal protection.



  • Be proactive. Verna Law has experience in applying for copyright protection covering all types of creative works. Let us help you navigate the U.S. Copyright Office’s rules on deposit copies, publication requirements, etc. Filing applications to protect your copyrightable material before disputes arise provides you with the required registration (or official refusal) you need so that you can act swiftly when an infringer surfaces.
  • Expedite your application if needed. If you think litigation might be imminent, consider filing an expedited copyright application. Verna Law is experienced in filing applications for expedited processing. While the fee to expedite an application is $800, an applicant typically has a copyright registration (and, therefore, the ability to file a lawsuit) in hand within a week.
  • Damages are important. If infringement happens after registration of the copyright, the copyright owner is entitled to damages such as statutory damages, attorney fees, and costs – not just lost profits. This ruling emphasizes the need to register a copyright.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s ruling has far-reaching implications for copyright owners. Staying ahead with proactive copyright registration and strategic legal maneuvers is now more critical than ever. Verna Law stands ready to guide you through these intricacies, ensuring your creative works are well-protected in the ever-evolving landscape of copyright law.

Do you have questions about your copyright?  Contact us at or call 914-908-6757.