As an update to a blog entry on June 18, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, LP in February of this year.
By way of background, H&M argued that Unicolors’ copyright registration was invalid because Unicolors improperly filed one copyright application for over thirty (30) fabric designs that were not originally published together. The legal basis for H&M’s argument was that a collection of works does not qualify as a so-called “single unit of publication” unless all individual works in the collection were first published together. Therefore, Unicolors’ registration was susceptible to invalidation.
In its decision, the Court held that the 9th Circuit was incorrect in finding that Unicolors could not benefit from the safe harbor provided by U.S.C.S. § 411(b)(1). The safe harbor states that a certificate of copyright registration is valid even if it contains inaccurate information, so long as the copyright holder lacked knowledge of the inaccuracy. The Court further determined that § 411(b) does not distinguish between a mistake of law and a mistake of fact – either can excuse an inaccuracy in a copyright registration and therefore save the registration from invalidation.
Ultimately, the Court held that Unicolors was eligible to benefit from the safe harbor because its lack of knowledge of the “single unit of publication” requirement was due to its failure to understand the law, rather than the facts.
Earlier this month, the 9th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment on remand and held that Unicolors’ registration came within the protection of the safe harbor provision. Further, the 9th Circuit determined that a party must show the following when seeking to invalidate a copyright registration under § 411: (1) the copyright holder submitted an inaccurate application; (2) the copyright holder knew that the application failed to comply with the requisite legal requirements; and (3) the inaccuracy was material to the decision to register the applied-for work(s).