Can a copyright owner recover money in civil court for an infringement to that copyright even if that infringement occurred before they register it with the Copyright Office? After they register it, can they seek recovery for infringement prior to the registration?

The Copyright Act of 1976 states that “no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.” The law also states that the owner of the material has rights over it prior to registering it, but is not allowed to be granted recovery for infringements by others to that copyright.

Early this month, the U.S. Supreme Court stood by this language as it upheld a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling. The high court ruled that once a copyright has been registered, the owner can seek recovery for infringement that occurred before that registration.

The justices also noted that in some cases, a person may sue for infringement even before registration. The decision cited “work of a type vulnerable to predistribution infringement.” Examples would include music and movies.

If you’re in a profession or own a business where your livelihood depends on protecting your intellectual property, it’s essential to understand what steps you need to take to do so. You also need to know what your options are if someone does infringe upon a copyright or otherwise take and/or profit from your intellectual property. An experienced attorney can provide necessary guidance and help you protect your hard work and ingenuity.