Copyright Office Clarifications

The US Supreme Court took on copyrights in two major cases, the first reinforcing the importance of timely federal copyright registration. It unanimously held in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation v. that copyright owners must obtain a registration from the United States Copyright Office prior to filing an infringement action.  

As such, whereas some courts previously allowed lawsuits to proceed on the basis of simply submitting a copyright application (rather than waiting the 6+ months of processing time or paying the $800 fee to expedite), it’s now clear that for creative works, prompt filing (i.e., BEFORE an infringer pops up) is a prudent investment. 

In a second important opinion, Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc., the high court clarified what it means when a loser of a copyright case has to reimburse “full costs” to the winner – and held that reimbursement is actually limited to specific categories (including court and document-related costs), but not big-ticket expert testimony and e-discovery expenses.  While this may make some plaintiffs think twice before expending huge sums on questionable cases, the ruling only pertains to reimbursement of costs and does NOT limit the huge sums that victorious plaintiffs are still eligible for as actual damages remedies (as well as reasonable attorney fees) under US Copyright law.