THE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION IN UNICOLORS, INC. V. H&M HENNES & MAURITZ, L.P. ELIMINATES A TRAP FOR UNWARY COPYRIGHT APPLICANTS
David A. Sergenian
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On February 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion addressing the standard that must be met to establish the first element of an invalidity defense based on 17 U.S.C. § 411(b). Pursuant to Section 411(b), a copyright registration may be held invalid if the copyright application contains information that the applicant knew to be inaccurate at the time of registration.1 It is clear that a copyright registration may be invalidated pursuant to Section 411(b) if it contains factual information that an applicant knew to be inaccurate at the time of registration. However, what if a registrant submits a copyright registration that contains an inaccurate legal description of the work to be registered? Does a defendant need to show that the registrant had actual knowledge of the inaccurate legal description, or can knowledge of the law be imputed to the registrant? The Ninth Circuit essentially held that knowledge of the law under these circumstances may be imputed to the registrant. The Supreme Court, however, reversed the Ninth Circuit and held that a copyright application that contains a mistake of law can only be invalidated pursuant to Section 411(b) if the registrant had actual knowledge of the mistake of law at the time of registration.