A good-faith mistake doesn’t invalidate a copyright registration. Unicolors learned that a good-faith mistake doesn’t invalidate a copyright registration just recently. The case arose when the clothing company H&M was sued by Unicolors. Unicolors alleged that H&M copied pieces of clothing from them. H&M argued that Unicolors couldn’t bring the suit because Unicolors knowingly included inaccurate information on its registration application.
A federal judge concluded that because Unicolors didn’t know the information was inaccurate when applying, its copyright registration remains valid under the safe harbor provision of § 411(b)(1)(A). Under that provision, copyright registration is valid even if it contains inaccurate information — as long as the copyright holder lacked “knowledge that it was inaccurate.”
“Lack of knowledge of either fact or law can excuse an inaccuracy in a copyright registration,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the high court’s majority.
In the statutory language of § 411(b)(1)(A), nothing suggests a distinction between mistakes of fact and mistakes of law, the Supreme Court’s majority held — copyright registration applications “call for information that requires both legal and factual knowledge.”
“Inaccurate information in a registration is therefore equally (or more) likely to arise from a mistake of law as a mistake of fact,” Breyer wrote. “That is especially true because applicants include novelists, poets, painters, designers, and others without legal training. Nothing in the statutory language suggests that Congress wanted to forgive those applicants’ factual but not their (often esoteric) legal mistakes.”
The majority rejected H&M’s argument that this interpretation of the statute would make it too easy for copyright holders to avoid the consequences of inaccurate registration applications, writing that “courts need not automatically accept a copyright holder’s claim that it was unaware of the relevant legal requirements of the copyright law.”
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