Unicolors, the owner of fabric design copyrights, successfully sued H&M for copyright infringement, 17 U.S.C. 411(a). H&M argued that Unicolors knowingly included inaccurate information on its registration application, rendering its registration invalid; Unicolors had filed a single application seeking registration for 31 separate works despite a regulation that provides that a single application may cover multiple works only if they were “included in the same unit of publication.” H&M argued that Unicolors had made some of the designs available for sale exclusively to certain customers while offering the rest to the general public.
The Ninth Circuit determined that it did not matter whether Unicolors was aware that it had failed to satisfy the single unit of publication requirement because the safe harbor excused only good-faith mistakes of fact, not law; Unicolors knew the relevant facts.
The Supreme Court vacated. Section 411(b) does not distinguish between mistakes of law and mistakes of fact. Under the safe harbor, a certificate of registration is valid, even though it contains inaccurate information if the copyright holder lacked “knowledge that it was inaccurate.” If Unicolors was not aware of the legal requirement that rendered its application inaccurate, it could not have included the inaccurate information “with knowledge that it was inaccurate.” Legislative history indicates that Congress enacted section 411(b) to make it easier for nonlawyers to obtain valid copyright registrations by “eliminating loopholes” that allowed infringers to exploit mistakes in the application process. The Court noted that willful blindness may support a finding of actual knowledge and circumstantial evidence may demonstrate that an applicant was aware of, or willfully blind to, legally inaccurate information. View “Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L. P.” on Justia Law