Although the title to this post may seem obvious, it was the basis for the Third Circuit’s ruling in Dawes-Lloyd v. Publish America, LLLP, No. 10-3781 (3d Cir. Aug. 12, 2011). In exchange for royalties, the plaintiff gave the defendant a license to publish and sell her book, “A Child’s Intuition,” in June 2003. A year later the plaintiff requested that the contract be terminated and in 2005 she filed a lawsuit in Maryland state court that sought an accounting of the book’s sales and the royalties that she was owed. The dispute was arbitrated and in May 2007 the plaintiff was awarded $6.70 based on the sale of seven copies of the book. The arbitrator determined that the plaintiff presented no evidence of additional sales of the book and that the license had been terminated.
Two years later the plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the defendant alleging that it had infringed on her copyright after their contract had been terminated. Specifically, she charged in her complaint that the defendant had sold the book rights to a foreign publishing company and the marketing rights to the television show, “America’s Most Wanted.” The defendant filed a summary judgment motion in which it argued that the plaintiff could not establish a prima facie claim for copyright infringement. In opposing the motion the plaintiff asserted that she had registered the copyright but presented no proof of such registration. She also did not present evidence as to the defendant’s alleged infringement. In its reply, the defendant submitted evidence that it had searched the United States Copyright Office’s records and had not located any listings for the plaintiff or her book. The District Court granted the defendant’s motion on the basis that the plaintiff had not registered her copyright.
The Third Circuit affirmed. The court explained that a copyright infringement claim “may not be brought until the copyright is registered.” Pointing out that the plaintiff had not provided evidence to the District Court that she had registered her copyright, the Third Circuit noted that she devoted most of her appellate brief to criticizing the defendant’s business practices and had even appeared “to admit that she did not register the copyright[.]” Accordingly, the Third Circuit held that “because [plaintiff] did not hold a registered copyright, she could not state a prima facie case of copyright infringement[.]”