Register That Copyright

Most writers today at least recognize the name Tasini from the Supreme Court's Tasini opinion, which confirmed that writers of articles used in electronic databases without their permission had some right to recourse. For a brief write-up, see Tasini Case Final Decision - Authors Win.

But apparently some of the writers weren't happy with the class action settlement that was eventually determined in the lower courts, and pressed forward with the case. That's when a fatal flaw appeared and they got the 411 on copyright law. Apparently, not all of the works included in the class action had registered copyrights, whether before or after the infringements, and registration is a requirement for pursuing a case in Federal court.

The overall settlement of the suit had been around $18 million according to my lawyer, with the bulk of the money going to authors who had registered the copyrights. The authors without registered copyrights who felt they'd been short changed appealed the settlement, which the court of appeals vacated on the grounds that writers with unregistered copyrights should never have been included in the class action suit to start with! I'm told the defendants lawyers weren't even arguing this point. The judges, or at least, two out of three of the judges, came to this conclusion on their own.

So the moral of the story is to register your copyrights before joining a class action copyright suit, or, if you are part of a copyright suit as the owner of a registered copyright, don't let any writers with unregistered copyrights join you. It's unclear whether the plaintiffs with registered copyrights will want to go back and start the whole process all over again, but it is clear that the writers with unregistered copyrights have traded something for nothing.

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