An original work of authorship is accorded copyright protection when the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression (17 U.S.C. §102). However, a copyright owner cannot sue for infringement of the copyrighted work until either 1) “registration has been made” of the work to the Copyright Office, or 2) the work is refused registration by the Copyright Office and the required deposit, application, and fee have been delivered to the Copyright Office in proper form (17 U.S.C. §411).
The phrase “registration has been made” has been interpreted differently by different federal appeals courts. Some courts have ruled the phrase means that the application has been accepted and registered by the Copyright Office. Other courts have ruled the phrase means that a properly filed application for copyright has been received by the Copyright Office. These other courts find support in their interpretation from other statutes where the same phrase is understood to mean properly applying for registration. Supporters of both interpretations point to part 2) of the statute for support of their respective interpretation.
This conflict among federal appeals courts has been recognized in the highest courts, and now the Supreme Court has agreed to settle the dispute in the case, Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com LLC, et al. Does the phrase “copyright registration being made” require only a properly filed application to be received by the Copyright Office? Or does that phrase require an action to be taken by the Copyright Office—either acceptance or refusal—in response to receipt of a properly filed application? The Supreme Court will soon answer that question.