REED ELSEVIER v. MUCHNICK

Print this Page
Case Basics
Docket No. 
08-103
Petitioner 
Reed Elsevier, Inc., et al.
Respondent 
Irvin Muchnick, et al.
Advocates
(argued the cause for the petiioners)
(Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae)
(argued the cause for amicus curiae in support of the judgment below (appointed by the Court))
Term:
Facts of the Case 

A federal district court in New York approved an $18 million settlement in a class-action brought by freelance writers who had contracted with the defendant publishers to publish their works in print. Without authorization, the publishers reproduced the works for electronic distribution. Muchnick and others objected to the settlement.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit overturned the settlement on the ground that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over claims relating to unregistered works. The court stated that the Copyright Act grants the federal district courts jurisdiction only over those claims that arise from registered works. Since the vast majority of the claimants in the litigation based their claims on unregistered works, the federal district court did not have the power to certify a class in the litigation.

Question 

Does Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act restrict subject matter jurisdiction of federal courts over copyright infringement actions?

Conclusion 
Decision: 8 votes for Reed Elsevier, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Copyright Act §411(a)

No. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas held that Section 411(a)'s registration requirement is a precondition to filing a copyright infringement claim. The Court further held that a copyright holder's failure to comply with the registration requirement does not restrict a federal court's subject matter jurisdiction over infringement claims involving unregistered works. The Court declined to address whether Section 411(a)'s registration requirement is a mandatory precondition to suit that district courts may or should enforce on their own initiative by dismissing copyright infringement claims involving unregistered works.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer, concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. Justice Ginsburg agreed that Section 411(a)'s registration requirement does not restrict a federal court's subject matter jurisdiction. However, she noted that tension remained between the Court's prior holdings in Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp. and Bowles v. Russell. In an attempt to stave off confusion, she attempted to reconcile the two decisions by distinguishing the cases.

Cite this Page
REED ELSEVIER v. MUCHNICK. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 01 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2009/2009_08_103>.
REED ELSEVIER v. MUCHNICK, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2009/2009_08_103 (last visited September 1, 2014).
"REED ELSEVIER v. MUCHNICK," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 1, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2009/2009_08_103.