UnIntellectual Property (UnIP): Copyright for Individual Photographs in a Compilation Registration

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California decided a question which is pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in two cases: whether compilation registrations must list the names of individual authors for the underlying works to also be copyrighted.  In deciding that, yes, the names of the individual authors of the underlying works must be listed, the Court interpreted Section 409 of the Copyright Act, which requires that a registration application include the name of the claimant, the name of the author, and the title of the work.  As such, the court agreed with Defendant’s position that the registrations relied upon by Plaintiff to cover the photographs at issue, all compilation registrations, do not not validly register the underlying works because they do not comply with Section 409.  In particular, the “Court concludes that Pearson is entitled to summary judgment on these claims because while the photographs at issue were part of registered compilations, they were not themselves registered and therefore are not copyrighted, and MPI has provided no evidence to the contrary.”

This case highlights a relatively unsettled area of law with respect to registration requirements for compilations.  In fact, this case disagrees with The Copyright Office’s position that the registration of a collective work also registers any independently copyrightable works within the collective work.  As such, copyright attorneys would be well-served to ensure that the individual authors of any individual work within a compilation is listed, at least until the Ninth Circuit or United States Supreme Court says otherwise.

Muench Photography, Inc. v. Pearson Educ., Inc., 12-CV-01927-WHO, 2013 WL 6185200 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 19, 2013).


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