Reconstruction of Work Insufficient for Copyright Registration Deposit and Federal Jurisdiction
At the request of a friend who was looking for new material for his band to play, Fernando Torres-Negrón wrote the music and lyrics to a song, Noche de Fiesta, in 1993. Torres gave his friend the piece of paper on which he had written the lyrics, along with a cassette tape containing a recording of Torres singing the song. The song eventually ended up on three CDs, distributed both in Puerto Rico and the continental United States. When Torres first learned of the distribution and sales of his song in 2001, he submitted an application for copyright registration with the Copyright Office, and filed this lawsuit for infringement. Although the case proceeded to trial and resulted in a jury verdict for Torres, the district court granted the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law.
There is no dispute about the district court's finding that Torres submitted a reconstruction of his original songs, created from his memory and without direct
reference to his original works, to the Copyright Office. Because the Copyright Act requires that a "copy" be submitted along with an application for copyright registration, and not a reconstruction, Torres failed to submit a complete application for registration of his copyright. A complete application is a jurisdictional prerequisite to filing suit in federal court for copyright infringement.
[Footnote: The Copyright Act was amended in 2005, after this action wasfiled, to add "preregistration" as another method for obtainingeligibility to file an infringement action. See 17 U.S.C. §411(a); La Resolana Architects, PA v. Clay Realtors Angel Fire, 416F.3d 1195, 1200, 1206-07 (10th Cir. 2005). As the preregistrationoption is not at issue here, we do not further discuss it.]
Therefore, we agree with the district court that it lacked jurisdiction over Torres' lawsuit. We also conclude that the district court did not err in denying defendants' motion for attorney's fees.
. . . In light of the plain statutory language and the purpose of the registration requirement, we conclude that omission of a proper deposit copy with a copyright application renders the registration invalid and eliminates the federal courts' subject matter jurisdiction over an infringement claim. As we have previously recognized, most errors or mistakes in a copyright registration application will be inadvertent or immaterial, and thus will not invalidate the application (or any resulting certificate). Data Gen. Corp., 36 F.3d at 1161. In the rare instances where a plaintiff's registration was procured through fraud or in the absence of a bona fide copy, such as occurred here, the registration becomes invalid and the federal courts lack jurisdiction over the case.