Copyright Law Watch: Supreme Court Rules “Lack Of Knowledge” Can Justify Error
On February 24th, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision in the case of Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P.—an IP matter related to copyright registration. In an important decision, the nation’s top federal court found that “lack of knowledge” may be sufficient to excuse an error on a copyright registration application. Here, our Florida copyright registration attorney provides an overview of the decision and explains its implications for copyright holders.
Case Analysis: Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P.
Background & Facts
Unicolors is a company in the fashion industry. It owns the copyright for various fabric-related designs. The firm filed a lawsuit against the nationally known retailer and fashion brand H&M for copyright infringement. In the initial case, the jury found in favor of Unicolors and ruled that H&M was liable for copyright infringement.
H&M challenged the court’s decision on the grounds that Unicolors’ copyright registration contained material errors and was therefore invalid, making the company ineligible to sue for copyright infringement. A federal district court ruled against H&M on the grounds that Unicolors had satisfied the statutes safe harbor by making the mistake in good faith and without knowledge of the requisite law. However, on appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of H&M—ruling that the original copyright registration was invalid and Unicolors knowledge of the mistake was inconsequential because the statute only excused good faith mistakes of fact, not law.
The Supreme Court Decision
Unicolors appealed the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision to the Supreme Court of the United States. The primary legal issue before the nation’s top court: Can a copyright registration still be valid if it contained significant errors? Writing for a 6 to 3 majority, Justice Stephen Breyer found that the federal copyright law does not make any specific distinction between mistakes of fact and mistakes of law. In effect, this means that a material mistake on a copyright registration does not retroactively render the petition invalid—at least not automatically. However, the Supreme Court’s majority also emphasized that this only applies when a petitioner makes an error due to “lack of knowledge.” An error that was not made in good faith will result in the invalidation of an existing copyright registration.
The Implications for Copyholders
Copyright protection applies from the moment that an original work of authorship is put down into a tangible form. That being said, a valid copyright registration provides very important legal advantages, including the right to bring a civil lawsuit for copyright infringement. In this decision, the Supreme Court has made it easier for parties to maintain copyright registration even if there was a material error of fact or law on their original petition. Though, they must prove that any such material mistake occurred due to “lack of knowledge.”
Consult With Florida Copyright Lawyer Today
At Perkins Law, our South Florida copyright attorney is a devoted advocate for clients. If you have any questions about registering a copyright, we can help. Contact us now for a strictly confidential review of your case. We provide copyright registration representation throughout South Florida, including in Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County, and Broward County.