U.S. Copyright Office
Library of Congress
Annual Report 2002: Litigation

Although the Office does not enforce the provisions of title 17, it may be involved in litigation in several ways. It can choose to intervene under section 411(a) in a case where registration has been refused; it may be sued under the Administrative Procedure Act; it may be asked to participate in litigation either by assisting in the preparation of an amicus curiae brief in support of a particular position, by assisting the Department of Justice in defending a particular action, or by bringing a suit under section 407 to compel the deposit of copies of the best edition of a work. The Copyright Office continued to respond to requests for assistance from the Department of Justice relating to copyright litigation, including one case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act

On October 27, 1998, President Clinton signed this Act into law, extending for an additional 20 years the term of copyright protection in the United States [Pub. L. No. 105-298, 112 Stat. 2827 (1998)]. This extends the term of copyright for most works to the life of the author plus 70 years. It similarly extends for an additional 20 years the terms of anonymous and pseudonymous works, works made for hire, and works in their renewal terms.

Eldred v. Ashcroft
(formerly Eldred v. Reno)

The Plaintiffs, who used works on which copyright had expired, challenged the constitutional validity of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. The Act extended the copyright term by an additional 20 years for all works, including those still under copyright protection in the United States on the effective date of the Act. Plaintiffs argued that the extension unlawfully took works that would have gone into the public domain out of the reach of the public for additional time. Both the district court and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found the Act constitutional. The United States Supreme Court granted the Appellants’ petition for a writ of certiorari. Copyright Office staff provided assistance to the Solicitor General’s Office in drafting Respondent’s briefs and in preparing for oral argument. The Court was set to hear oral arguments on October 9, 2002.

Bonneville v. Peters

As reported in Fiscal Year 2001, the Broadcasters of AM/FM radio stations appealed the decision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania upholding the Copyright Office’s final rule that AM/FM broadcast signals transmitted simultaneously over a digital communications network, such as the Internet, were not exempted by 17 U.S.C. § 114(d)(1)(A) from the digital performance right for sound recordings. During fy 2002, the Copyright Office worked with the Department of Justice in preparing the appellee’s brief defending the district court’s decision. The case is scheduled for oral argument on December 2, 2002, and should be decided in fy 2003.

Paul Morelli Design, Inc. v. Tiffany and Company

The Copyright Office continued to review all copyright cases filed where the Register of Copyrights has the right to intervene under 17 U.S.C. § 411(a). The Register chose to intervene in one case where registration was refused—Paul Morelli Design Inc. v. Tiffany and Company—in order to defend the Examining Division’s decision and the Office’s practices and procedures regarding registration. The Copyright Office refused registration of 18 pieces of jewelry created by Paul Morelli Design, Inc., finding that the jewelry contained an insufficient level of creative authorship to sustain a registration. After this refusal of registration by the Office and a subsequent first appeal, Paul Morelli Design, Inc., brought a copyright infringement action against Tiffany & Co. for copying this jewelry. The Register intervened in the suit in order to counter inaccuracies regarding Office policies and practices contained in the expert report of the Plaintiff and in order to support the decisions of the Examining Division. The trial before a jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania resulted in a finding that the works were not copyrightable.

The case addressed numerous issues affecting the Office, including the limits on the Register’s ability to intervene beyond the statutory time frame, the appropriate level of deference to be accorded to the Copyright Office’s determination of insufficient creative authorship in an infringement suit in which the allegedly copied works were denied registration, the proper considerations for evaluating sufficient creative authorship, and the meaning of the statutory requirement that an application for registration be received by the Office "in proper form."

Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley (formerly Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes)

In fy 2001, the Copyright Office assisted and consulted with the Solicitor General’s Office and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in an intervention defending the constitutionality of 17 U.S.C. § 1201. In this fiscal year, the Second Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court and held that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act did not violate the constitutional rights of the defendants.

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