The Ninth Circuit has ruled in favor of Unicolors, Inc., finding that the company has a valid copyright registration despite a mistake in the registration.
Earlier this year, in a case called Unicolors Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz LP, the Supreme Court found that lack of either factual or legal knowledge can excuse inaccuracies in copyright registrations under Section 411(b)(1)(A) of the Copyright Act. You can read my blog post on that opinion here.
As a quick reminder of the facts, Unicolors sued and won its copyright infringement case against H&M, but H&M requested a judgment as a matter of law because Unicolors copyright registration was inaccurate. H&M argued that Unicolors had wrongly tried to register 31 separate works in a single application, violating the "single unit of publication" rule. As such, the registration was invalid and Unicolors could not bring a copyright lawsuit. The Supreme Court disagreed, and found that legal mistakes can excuse inaccuracies, and remanded the case back to the Ninth Circuit.
On November 10, 2022, the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion, finding that Unicolors’ copyright registration was indeed inaccurate, but because Unicolors lacked knowledge of the inaccuracy, the registration was valid. The court stated: “Given that our prior holding was new binding precedent and that the [single registration] issue was truly unsettled at the time . . . we can draw a sensible inference that Unicolors did not know that its ’400 Registration application would run afoul of the single unit requirement.” In other words, Unicolors made an excusable legal mistake.
Of course this is not permission to submit inaccurate registrations. Copyright holders should always seek to get it right the first time to avoid costly litigation or denial of their registrations.