United States Supreme Court Rules on Copyright Registration Requirements


On March 2, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, No. 08–103, 559 U.S. ___ (2010), holding that a plaintiff’s failure to comply with the registration requirement of Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act1 does not restrict a federal court’s subject-matter jurisdiction over infringement claims involving unregistered works. Rather, the Court ruled, Section 411(a)’s registration requirement is a nonjurisdictional precondition to the filing of a copyright infringement claim. The ruling has implications for cases involving the copyright infringement of unregistered works.


Section 411(a) provides, with a few exceptions, that “no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.”

In its decision, the Supreme Court clarified that this requirement is a precondition to filing a claim that does not restrict a federal court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court based its conclusion on the fact that the requirement is not clearly labeled “jurisdictional,” or located in a jurisdiction granting provision. Also, the Court noted that the copyright statute already includes a number of congressionally authorized exceptions to the requirement.

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