ATLANTA — Circuit Judge William Pryor dismissed a copyright infringement suit against Wall-Street.com after several divided court judgments.

Pryor held that Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp., an online journalism organization, had no legal right to certain copyrights that Wall-Street.com left on its website because the Register of Copyrights had not yet given a decision regarding its copyright application.

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Fourth Estate licenses articles to websites but retains the copyrights, according to court documents. Wall-Street.com is a news website that obtained licenses to articles produced by Fourth Estate. The agreement was that Wall-Street.com would remove all of the content produced by Fourth Estate from its website before canceling its account. However, when Wall-Street.com canceled its account, it allegedly continued to display the articles produced by Fourth Estate on its website. Fourth Estate then filed a complaint about copyright infringement against Wall-Street and its owner, Jerrold Burden.

Fourth Estate alleged in its claim that it had filed an application to register its allegedly infringed copyrighted articles but did not allege that the Register of Copyrights had made an action to approve or deny the claims. Wall-Street.com and Burden moved to dismiss the suit, claiming that the Copyright Act only permits a suit for infringement after the Register of Copyrights approves or denies an application.

The Copyright Act defines registration as a process that requires action by both the copyright owner and the Copyright Office, who examines the material and determines whether the material in question constitutes copyrightable subject matter.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed the suit, stating that Fourth Estate failed to plead compliance with the registration requirement.

Fourth Estate filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit because it said it had followed the application approach and should be given rights. Wall-Street.com argued that the courts have adopted the registration approach, in which a lawsuit for copyright infringement cannot be filed unless the plaintiff has a registered copyright and should retain that decision.

In deciding where registration occurs, either from the time of application or when the Register of Copyrights gives a decision, the circuit court followed the Supreme Court, holding that registration requirement is a precondition to filing a claim that does not restrict a federal court’s subject-matter jurisdiction.  

Pryor said that the text of the Copyright Act makes it clear that the registration approach was correct. Further, regarding Fourth Estate’s claim that the statute of limitations supports the application approach, Pryor said that the registration requirement and the three-year statute of limitations reflect a statutory plan to encourage registration.

Pryor concluded that simply applying for the registration does not give any rights and that registration occurs only after review and approval by the Register of Copyrights.

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