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U.S. Supreme Court considers copyright registration question

Creators in Colorado depend on registration at the U.S. Copyright Office to protect their ownership of intellectual property. A case that hinges upon when copyright registration actually takes place is now before the Supreme Court of the United States. The Justices must reconcile the differing views about registration that emerged from lower courts to determine an infringement case's ability to go forward.

The Copyright Act establishes that civil action concerning infringement cannot take place until preregistration or registration of a copyright claim has taken place. One view holds that application for copyright suffices to fulfill the requirement of registration before proceeding with litigation. Others interpret the law to mean that registration only takes place when the Copyright Office issues a certificate of registration. Applications to the office, however, routinely take two to 15 months before receiving decisions. These substantial delays could expose copyright holders to infringement without the ability to take legal action if they were expected to wait for certificates.

If the Supreme Court rules that civil action cannot proceed without a copyright certificate, then the Copyright Office could expect to receive far more expedited applications than it does now. If a decision allows civil action following only application, then subsequent denials of copyright might undermine court decisions made under the presumption of copyright protection.

Copyright holders often have significant financial interests reliant upon the protection of intellectual property. Individuals concerned about infringement or who has been accused of infringement might seek advice from an attorney. A case analysis could reveal defense strategies that enable an attorney to settle the dispute during negotiations or litigation. An attorney may be able to defend someone's position by presenting documentation about copyright ownership or licensing.

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