This blog discusses a case that concerns jurisdictional requirements for filing copyright infringement lawsuits. The Copyright Act includes a statute that requires most copyright owners to register their copyrights before filing a lawsuit.  In Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, 559 U.S. 154 (2010), the Supreme Court considered whether the requirements were jurisdictional requirements or merely preconditions to filing a lawsuit. 

The distinction between a precondition and a jurisdictional requirement was relevant in this particular context because the case involved a class-action lawsuit. The class action arose when Reed Elsevier, Inc., and some related companies began publishing articles from freelance authors electronically without permission to do so. Certain authors registered their copyrights, but others had not.

As the case began to grow in size and complexity, the parties began settlement discussions through a court-appointed mediator. Once the parties reached a settlement, they moved for class certification and for approval of the settlement. However, a finding by the Supreme Court that copyright registration was a jurisdictional requirement could have threatened the settlement.

The Supreme Court’s decision seemed to strike a balance between preserving the requirement to obtain a copyright registration before bringing an infringement lawsuit and providing courts with the flexibility to manage large copyright settlements. The latter advances an important public-policy goal to encourage such settlements, so that the courts do not become overwhelmed with a massive amount of copyright-infringement lawsuits.