Implications of Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick
On March 2, 2010, in Reed Elsevier Inc. v. Muchnick, No. 08-103, the U.S. Supreme Court held that failure to have a federal copyright registration for the underlying work in a copyright infringement lawsuit is not a jurisdictional defect and therefore does not preclude courts from having subject matter jurisdiction over the copyright claim.
This case addresses the Copyright Act's "registration requirement," 17 U.S.C. § 411(a), which states in relevant part that: "no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work1 shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title."
The Reed Elsevier decision holds that federal district courts nonetheless have jurisdiction over copyright infringement claims that involve unregistered United States works. Reed Elsevier overturns long-standing jurisprudence in which federal courts had dismissed cases involving copyright infringement claims for unregistered works due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The headlines regarding the Reed Elsevier decision may cause the casual reader to wonder whether registering a copyright remains a necessary step to take prior to bringing a copyright litigation, and whether this decision will open the floodgates for federal courts to adjudicate copyright infringement suits involving unregistered works.