(CN) – Failure to register a copyright doesn’t bar authors from filing copyright infringement claims in federal court, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, reviving an $18 million class-action settlement between freelance authors and publishers.
The Copyright Act generally requires copyright holders to register their works before suing for infringement.
In the underlying class action, freelance authors accused print publishers and publishers of electronic databases of reproducing their work without permission. The consolidated class included authors who had never registered copyrights to their articles.
After three years of negotiations, the authors and publishers agreed to settle the dispute “to achieve a global peace in the publishing industry,” the ruling states.
They asked the district court to certify a class for settlement and approve their agreement. The district court complied, overruling the objections of 10 freelance authors.
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan raised the issue of whether the federal court had jurisdiction to approve the settlement, because the deal included unregistered works.
The circuit overturned the lower court’s rulings, and the Supreme Court again reversed.
The registration requirement of the Copyright Act is not jurisdictional, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled, rejecting arguments advanced by amicus curiae appointed to defend the 2nd Circuit’s position.
“In concluding that the district court had jurisdiction to approve the settlement, we express no opinion on the settlement’s merits,” Thomas wrote.
“We also decline to address whether (the) registration requirement is a mandatory precondition to suit that … district courts may or should enforce sua sponte by dismissing copyright infringement claims involving unregistered works.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained how she reconciled the high court’s rulings in Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp. and Bowles v. Russell, which addressed statutory requirements that were potentially jurisdictional.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not participate in the unanimous decision.