We’ve written on many occasions about the benefits and added protections of copyrighting your labels, advertising, label art and other protectable content. The United States Supreme Court has recently held in a unanimous decision, that copyright owners have to register with the United States Copyright Office in order to commence a lawsuit to enforce their rights.

In the case, Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, (link to opinion), the Court held that the Copyright Act requires the Copyright Office issue a registration certificate in order to commence a lawsuit to protect your rights. Prior to this, there had been some confusion as to whether a mere application was enough – IT IS NOT.

For those interested, the Court’s decision relied heavily on an interpretation of Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act:

[N]o 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 any case, however, where the deposit, application, and fee required for registration have been delivered to the Copyright Office in proper form and registration has been refused, the applicant is entitled to institute a civil action for infringement if notice thereof, with a copy of the complaint, is served on the Register of Copyrights. The Register may, at his or her option, become a party to the action with respect to the issue of registrability of the copyright claim.

In the case, an online news producer licensed content to Wall-Street.com but the license expired and the website didn’t take down the licensed content. The producer brought suit and the website moved to dismiss arguing the copyrights had been applied for, but hadn’t registered. The motion to dismiss was granted by the district court and then affirmed by the appellate court and then affirmed again by the Supreme Court. The Court held that since the registration process only takes a few months, fears that requiring issuance of the certificate as opposed to application would slow down and hinder the right to sue were overstated. There is little danger that an attentive copyright owner would blow the three-year statute of limitations. (There’s also a rush fee available – so…)

The takeaway: Get those creative elements registered to add a tool to your box in defending and protecting your brand.