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WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a unanimous opinion issued yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “registration occurs, and a copyright claimant may commence an infringement suit, when the Copyright Office registers a copyright,” settling a split between lower judicial circuits as to when rightsholders may file copyright lawsuits.

For the adult industry, the court’s decision is important because adult entertainment works are so often published – and subsequently infringed upon – long before the Copyright Office finishes processing the applications for copyright related to those works.

The case, Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation v., pitted news organization Fourth Estate against the website The fundamental facts of the case, related below, were never in dispute.

Fourth Estate produces online news articles, which it licenses to various websites while retaining the copyrights to those articles. licensed articles from Fourth Estate under a license agreement which required Wall-Street to remove all content produced by Fourth Estate from its website in the event Wall-Street cancelled its Fourth Estate account.

Wall-Street continued to display the articles after cancelling its Fourth Estate account, leading Fourth Estate to file a copyright infringement complaint against Wall-Street and its owner, Jerrold Burden. As noted by the district (trial) court, however, “the complaint did not allege that the Register of Copyrights had yet acted on the application.”


Gene Zorkin has been covering legal and political issues for various adult publications (and under a variety of different pen names) since 2002.