U.S. Supreme Court building

The U.S. Supreme Court Issues Two Copyright Opinions

Published March 4, 2019

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two unanimous opinions regarding copyrights.  The first opinion finally resolved a circuit split about the timing of copyright infringement cases.  The Court ruled that only copyright holders of a registered copyright may commence an infringement lawsuit. However, those persons may recover damages for infringement occurring prior to such registration.  Previously, some circuits (including the Ninth Circuit) had allowed initiation of a copyright infringement action while a copyright application was still pending.

The second opinion clarified the award of litigation expenses in copyright infringement cases.  The Court ruled that district courts may only award certain expenses within the enumerated categories authorized by federal statute and do not have the discretion to award additional litigation expenses under the Copyright Act.  For purposes of this case, the Court found that the Copyright Act does not expand the six categories of costs specified in the general costs statutes (28 U.S.C. sections 1821 and 1920), and therefore the district court’s $12.8 million award for litigation expenses impermissibly included expert witness fees, e-discovery expenses, and jury consultant fees.

The full opinions (Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC  and Rimini Street, Inc., v. Oracle USA, Inc.) are available on the U.S. Supreme Court website.

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