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A certificate of registration that contains inaccurate information is valid under the Copyright Act if the copyright holder was not aware of the legal error that rendered its application inaccurate

California

,

USA

The safe harbor provision in the Copyright Act excuses good-faith mistakes of both fact and law In Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L. P., No. 20-915 (S. Ct. 2022), the petitioner sued the respondent for copyright infringement and the jury found in the petitioner’s favor. Nevertheless, the respondent asked the trial court to grant it judgment as a matter of law based on the assertion that the petitioner’s registration certificate was invalid because it contained inaccurate information. The respondent noted that the petitioner had improperly filed a single application seeking registration for 31 separate works in violation of a Copyright Office regulation. The District Court denied the respondent’s request and found that under the safe harbor provision provided at § 411(b)(1) of the Copyright Act, the registration remained effective despite containing inaccurate information. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and held that the safe harbor provision excused only good-faith mistakes of fact, not law. The United States Supreme Court granted review. The term “knowledge” as used in Section 411(b)(1) means actual, subjective awareness of both the facts and the law Section 411(b)(1) of the Copyright Act provides that a copyright registration is valid regardless of whether the registration certificate contains any inaccurate information unless the inaccurate information was included on the application for copyright registration with the knowledge that it was inaccurate. The Court found that the text of § 411(b)(1), other provisions of the Copyright Act, and the history of judicial decisions before Congress codified the safe harbor provision confirmed that “knowledge,” as used in § 411(b)(1), means actual, subjective awareness of both the facts and the law. Willful blindness may support a finding of actual knowledge The respondent argued that the Court’s holding will make it too easy for copyright holders, by claiming lack of knowledge, to avoid the consequences of an inaccurate application. The Court disagreed and noted that willful blindness may support a finding of actual knowledge and circumstantial evidence, including the significance of the legal error, the complexity of the relevant rule, the applicant’s experience with copyright law, and other such matters, may also lead a court to find that an applicant was aware of legally inaccurate information. Disposition The Court vacated the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with their opinion.

April 14, 2022
Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L. P., No. 20-915 (S. Ct. 2022)
United States Supreme Court