claire-anderson-60670-unsplashFighting piracy has proven to be one of the greatest challenges facing content creators in this century, and has proven troublesome ever since there existed the means to replicate the work of others. Creators lose billions collectively to piracy and theft, as too many others are all too willing to perpetrate a seemingly victimless crime. For many of the victims, legal action is the only means of redress against the injury done to them; given how hard it is to stamp out piracy once a work is disseminated online, even that can seem like an ineffectual tool against an overwhelming problem.

Many advocates of creators' rights are concerned that their cause has been further damaged by a recent Supreme Court ruling that diminishes the ability of creators to take action against those who have infringed upon their work. In a unanimous decision in the case of Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall Street.com LLC, the justices ruled that lawsuits can only be brought by copyright holders after the U.S. Copyright Office has registered their work, and not while the copyright is going through the application and approval process.

In the case before the court, WallStreet.com had failed to remove works licensed from Fourth Estate after the end of their licensing agreement, and then sued the website for infringement, even though the articles in question had been submitted for copyright protection with the USCO but not approved.

The ruling seems particularly damaging for creators looking to protect their works. While it does nothing to change the fact that copyright registration is required by the letter of the law in order to pursue an infringement case, the Supreme Court decision resolves a split in lower circuit courts wherein certain jurisdictions held that an application was enough to meet the requirements to file suit. That decision places artists and creators at the mercy of the bureaucracy inside the USCO and the speed at which it operates, which, as anyone who has been involved with the government can attest, is far from swift.

That means someone can do everything right as a vigilant creator, filing for governmental recognition as soon as they've completed a work, and still find themselves the victim of theft or infringement, with no means of recourse for as long as it takes the wheels of government to spin. It should serve as a concerning development to anyone looking to file for copyright protection in the future, and puts the very idea of legal protection as an effective tool in doubt.

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