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Copyright Claims Board Clarifies Service Rules and Opt-Outs

The US Copyright Office issued two final rules for how companies can designate agents to receive claims and how libraries can preemptively opt out of claims before the Copyright Claims Board (CCB). The agency has been drafting rules governing the CCB since it was established in 2020. The new venue is designed to serve as an alternative forum where parties may voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims regarding any category of copyrighted work.

Companies Can Designate Subsidiaries as Agents of Service

Section 37 CFR § 222.6 (Designated service agents) becomes law effective April 7, 2022. This forthcoming rule will allow corporations, partnerships and unincorporated associations to use the same designated agent for process of service for separate legal entities under their direct or indirect common control. This rule will also allow companies with many subsidiaries to designate one service agent for each of its affiliates.

Libraries and Archives Can Preemptively Opt Out

Section 37 CFR § 223.2 (Libraries and archives opt-out procedures) becomes law effective April 8, 2022. Under this new law, a library or archive that wishes to preemptively opt out of participating in CCB proceedings may do so by submitting written notification to the CCB. The notification must certify that the library or archive qualifies for the limitations on exclusive rights under 17 U.S.C. 108, which provides that it is not an infringement of copyright for a library or archive, or any of its employees acting within the scope of their employment, to reproduce a single copy of a work under certain conditions.

Class Action Opt-Out Procedures

Section 37 CFR § 223.3 (Class action opt-out procedures) becomes law effective April 8, 2022. Under the new law, if a party to an active CCB proceeding receives notice of a pending or putative class action arising out of the same transaction or occurrence as the proceeding before the CCB in which the party is a class member, that party may either opt out of the class action or seek written dismissal of the proceeding before the CCB within 14 days of receiving notice of the pending class action.




Copyright Office Solicits Comments on Deferred Examination Option

The US Copyright Office announced a public study to evaluate the merits of providing an option to defer examination of copyright registration materials until a later request by the applicant. Deferred Registration Examination Study: Notice and Request for Public Comment, 86 Fed. Reg. 70540 (Dec. 10, 2021). To aid in the effort, the Copyright Office is soliciting public comments, which are due by January 24, 2022.

Copyright protection automatically attaches to an original work of authorship as soon as it’s created and fixed in tangible form. Although registration is optional, the US Copyright Act provides significant incentives to encourage registration, which only occurs after the Copyright Office examines the work and determines that it is copyrightable. This process can often take many months. In 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States held that a lawsuit for copyright infringement can be brought only after the Copyright Office registers the copyright. Fourth Estate v. Wall-Street.com, Case No. 17-571 (US March 4, 2019) (Ginsburg, Justice).

There is currently no option to delay or defer examination of submitted application materials. In an effort to modernize its technological infrastructure, the Copyright Office has previously solicited public input concerning the registration process. Respondents have submitted various proposals involving a deferred examination proceeding, some of which included:

  • Allowing applicants to submit application materials at a discounted fee
  • Delaying examination but still intaking information about the work into the public catalog
  • Allowing formal examination to determine whether the work should be registered at a later time for an additional fee
  • If the work is registered, attaching statutory benefits with an effective date of when the original materials were received.

Commenters have indicated that benefits of permitting deferred examination include more registrations, more timely registrations, expansion of the public record, improved efficiency by removal of the examination step, decreased processing times, lower expenses and more deposits available for the Library of Congress’s collections.

In May 2021, Senator Thom Tillis, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, sent a letter to the Copyright Office requesting a study on the feasibility, benefits and costs of creating a deferred examination option for an application, including whether an applicant can obtain an effective date of registration upon submission and deposit while choosing to defer examination until a later time. He also asked the Copyright Office to consider whether statutory changes might be necessary to enable such an option.

In order to assess the viability of including a deferred examination option, the Copyright Office is inviting written comments on various subjects, including:

  • The deficiencies in the current registration process
  • The potential benefits and drawbacks of a deferred examination option
  • The possible legal or regulatory framework for the option
  • The impact of such an option on the Copyright Office, the Library and the ability to bring a lawsuit based on Fourth Estate
  • Whether the same goals that deferred examination is meant to achieve could be accomplished through alternative [...]

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Copyright Claims Board’s Proposed Rulemaking: How to Initiate and Respond to a Claim

In January 2021, Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act. This legislation incorporates the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2020, which includes revisions to the Copyright Act with the goal of creating a new venue for copyright owners to enforce their rights without having to file an action in federal court. The new venue, called the Copyright Claims Board (CCB), is designed to serve as an alternative forum where parties may voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims regarding any category of copyrighted work.

On September 29, 2021, the US Copyright Office issued proposed rules in the Federal Register to establish the initial stages of a proceeding before the CCB. The proposed rules prescribe how to file a complaint, a process that includes submitting claim and notice forms online and paying a $100 filing fee. The proposed rulemaking notes that the claim form will require less information than what is required under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12, as practice before the CCB will be less complex than practice in federal courts according to the Copyright Office.

After a claim is filed, a copyright claims attorney will review the claim to ensure compliance with applicable regulations. If the claim is approved, the claimant can proceed to serve the claim within 90 days. If the claim is not approved, the claimant has 30 days to file an amended claim. Counterclaims are subject to the same review process. To pass review muster, the claim must “clearly state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” § 224.1.3. Under the proposed rules, a copyright claims attorney must review the claim or counterclaim for unsuitability on the grounds set out in 17 U.S.C. § 1506(f)(3). If the copyright claims attorney concludes that the claim should be dismissed as unsuitable under CASE he or she shall recommend that the CCB dismiss the claim and set forth the basis for that conclusion. The proposed rulemaking notes that the CCB wants to avoid hearing overbroad or clearly implausible claims.

The respondent will have 60 days to opt out after receiving notice of the claim, or it will lose the opportunity to have the dispute decided in a federal court. The proposed rulemaking prescribes that the initial notice form, provided by the CCB, be similar to a summons and would require the claimant to identify the nature (i.e., infringement, noninfringement or misrepresentation) of the claims being asserted. If the respondent does not respond or opt out within 20 days after the claimant files a proof or waiver of service, then the CCB will send a second notice to supplement the initial notice by mail and email. A respondent can opt out online, using a CCB form or by mail.

All comments to the proposed rulemaking must be received no later than October 29, 2021, 11:59 pm EDT.




Supreme Court to Consider Fraudulent Intent in Copyright Registration

The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider whether a copyright registration accurately reflecting a work can nevertheless be invalidated without fraudulent intent. Unicolors Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz LP, Case No. 20-915 (Supr. Ct. June 1, 2021) (certiorari granted)

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court decision awarding Unicolors a copyright infringement award of $800,000 as well as attorneys’ fees. The Ninth Circuit ruled that although Unicolors improperly registered the copyright (in a fabric design) as part of a “single-unit registration,” the district court was wrong to find intent to defraud the US Copyright Office—a requirement for invalidating a registration.

The issue presented is:

Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit erred in breaking with its own prior precedent and the findings of other circuits and the Copyright Office in holding that 17 U.S.C. § 411 requires referral to the Copyright Office where there is no indicia of fraud or material error as to the work at issue in the subject copyright registration.




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