Revisiting that Supreme Court copyright case

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Revisiting that Supreme Court copyright case

Thu Mar 05, 2009 @ 12:18PM PST
By Eriq Gardner

There are some in the legal community who think the Supreme Court's recent decision to hear a copyright case is a bigger deal than we do. At question in Reed Elsevier, Inc. et al., v. Muchnick is whether Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act restricts federal jurisdiction over copyright infringement matters.

That section pertains to the necessity of copyright registration before a court can take an infringement claim for review. 

The case narrowly reviews whether a federal court has the right to bless the settlement made in the wake of the Tasini dispute — when many members of the class didn't hold copyright title over their works. More broadly, if the Supreme Court goes so far, is the question of whether copyright registration must be completed and accepted by the U.S. Copyright Office before a federal court hears a copyright dispute altogether.

It often takes months for the U.S. Copyright Office to accept a registration. It's been common practice for plaintiffs to sue before the office acts upon an application. Some see restriction of jurisdiction as a vehicle that would offer a big stumbling block to many copyright lawsuits and get in the way of their enjoyment of rights.

We're still not sure whether the Supreme Court goes that far. (After all, they urged the settlement in the Tasini case in the first place.) And even if it does, there seems to be avenues — making the U.S. Copyright Office more efficient, for one — that would benefit copyright holders. But the subject has earned a bit of passion among some respected copyright gurus such as William Paltry, so perhaps we'll let those who wear those black robes at the high court keep their jobs for now.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to

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