Protecting Your Rights! Copyright Application V. Copyright Registration. For all original artists out there, a recent decision (January 4, 2013) from a New Jersey federal court should serve as food for thought on how to protect your interest in copyrighted material. 


The bottom line is that this court in this venue ruled that simply filling out the copyright forms is not enough to protect you. If you want protection you have to actually register the copyright. (What is a “venue” in legal terms? Check my blog about legal venue clauses HERE.


In North Jersey Media Group v. Sasson, 12-cv-3568, the court held that a copyright application—as opposed to a copyright registration—is insufficient to sustain a copyright infringement lawsuit. This is a recurring question in intellectual property cases around the country but unfortunately, our federal courts have not been able to reach a national consensus. 


One line of cases has held that no infringement action can be maintained until registration of the copyright claim has been accomplished although a civil action for infringement will be permitted where the application has been submitted to the Copyright Office and refused.  


The second line of cases holds that a pending copyright application is enough to sustain a suit.  In Sasson the court considered if a media group could pursue an infringement claim for an article and several photographs published in a blog by a former employee.  The lawsuit alleged that the media group’s former reporter infringed on the media group’s copyrights by posting the content on his personal blog without permission from the media group.

The New Jersey court in Sasson chose to follow the first line of cases thus adhering to the rule that copyright registration is indeed a prerequisite to filing a legal action. 


It is worth noting that the court did dismiss that portion of the lawsuit without prejudice and essentially it held that it could be refiled once registration had been secured.  However, this decision highlights the importance of pursuing copyright registration as soon as practically possible to protect your rights. 


You may have heard that it is possible to do something called a “poor man’s copyright.” That would, for example, mean taking a copy of your music and putting it in an envelope with the completed copyright forms and sending it to yourself via certified mail. The idea behind the practice was to be able to prove the authorship without paying the copyright registration fee. What the court decided here is that there is no protection without the actual registration.


Since this decision came out of New Jersey a different rule or result might be applied in another portion of the country so you need to speak with an attorney in your state for more accurate information.  Nevertheless, the prudent rule appears to be that artists should strive to protect their copyright interests as soon as possible.

Originally posted 2013-02-12 05:49:58.