Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick

Decision Date02 March 2010
Docket NumberNo. 08–103.,08–103.
Citation176 L.Ed.2d 18,130 S.Ct. 1237,559 U.S. 154
PartiesREED ELSEVIER, INC., et al., Petitioners, v. Irvin MUCHNICK et al.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Charles S. Sims, New York, NY, for petitioners.

Ginger Anders for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the petitioners.

Deborah Jones Merritt, appointed by this Court, as amicus curiae, supporting the judgment below.

Michael J. Boni, Counsel of Record, Joanne Zack, Joshua D. Snyder, Boni & Zack LLC, Bala Cynwyd, PA, for respondents Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

Diane S. Rice, Hosie Rice LLP, San Francisco, CA, A.J. De Bartolomeo, Girard Gibbs LLP, San Francisco, CA, Gary S. Fergus, Fergus, A Law Office, San Francisco, CA, Robert J. LaRocca, George W. Croner, Kohn Swift & Graf, P.C., Philadelphia, PA, for respondents.

David Nimmer, Irell & Manella LLP, Los Angeles, CA, Charles S. Sims, Counsel of Record, Jon A. Baumgarten, Mark D. Harris, Anna G. Kaminska, Proskauer Rose LLP, New York, NY, for petitioners.

Henry B. Gutman, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, New York, NY, for petitioner Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive LLC, d/b/a Factiva.

James L. Hallowell, Richard A. Bierschbach, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, New York, NY, for petitioners Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Ian Ballon, Greenberg Traurig LLP, Santa Monica, CA, for petitioners Knight–Ridder, Inc., Knight Ridder Digital, and Mediastream, Inc.

Matthew W. Walch, Latham & Watkins, Chicago, IL, for petitioner ProQuest Company.

Michael S. Denniston, Bradley Arant, Boult & Cummings LLP, Birmingham, AL, for petitioner EBSCO Industries, Inc.

Pamela S. Karlan, Jeffrey L. Fisher, Stanford Law School, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Stanford, CA, Charles D. Chalmers, Counsel of Record, Fairfax, CA, Amy Howe, Kevin K. Russell Howe & Russell, P.C., Bethesda, MD, for Muchnick respondents.


Justice THOMAS, delivered the opinion of the Court.

Subject to certain exceptions, the Copyright Act (Act) requires copyright holders to register their works before suing for copyright infringement. 17 U.S.C. § 411(a) (2006 ed., Supp. II). In this case, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a copyright holder's failure to comply with § 411(a)'s registration requirement deprives a federal court of jurisdiction to adjudicate his copyright infringement claim. We disagree. Section 411(a)'s registration requirement is a precondition to filing a claim that does not restrict a federal court's subject-matter jurisdiction.


The Constitution grants Congress the power [t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors ... the exclusive Right to ... their ... Writings.” Art. I, § 8, cl. 8. Exercising this power, Congress has crafted a comprehensive statutory scheme governing the existence and scope of [c]opyright protection” for “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” 17 U.S.C. § 102(a). This scheme gives copyright owners “the exclusive rights” (with specified statutory exceptions) to distribute, reproduce, or publicly perform their works. § 106. “Anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner as provided” in the Act “is an infringer of the copyright.” § 501(a). When such infringement occurs, a copyright owner “is entitled, subject to the requirements of section 411, to institute an action” for copyright infringement. § 501(b) (emphasis added).

This case concerns “the requirements of section 411 to which § 501(b) refers. Section 411(a) provides, inter alia and with certain exceptions, 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.”1 This provision is part of the Act's remedial scheme. It establishes a condition—copyright registration—that plaintiffs ordinarily must satisfy before filing an infringement claim and invoking the Act's remedial provisions. We address whether § 411(a) also deprives federal courts of subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate infringement claims involving unregistered works.


The relevant proceedings in this case began after we issued our opinion in New York Times Co. v. Tasini, 533 U.S. 483, 121 S.Ct. 2381, 150 L.Ed.2d 500 (2001). In Tasini, we agreed with the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that several owners of online databases and print publishers had infringed the copyrights of six freelance authors by reproducing the authors' works electronically without first securing their permission. See id., at 493, 121 S.Ct. 2381. In so holding, we affirmed the principal theory of liability underlying copyright infringement suits that other freelance authors had filed after the Court of Appeals had issued its opinion in Tasini. These other suits, which were stayed pending our decision in Tasini, resumed after we issued our opinion and were consolidated in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.

The consolidated complaint alleged that the named plaintiffs each own at least one copyright, typically in a freelance article written for a newspaper or a magazine, that they had registered in accordance with § 411(a). The class, however, included both authors who had registered their copyrighted works and authors who had not. See App. 94.

Because of the growing size and complexity of the lawsuit, the District Court referred the parties to mediation. For more than three years, the freelance authors, the publishers (and their insurers), and the electronic databases (and their insurers) negotiated. Finally, in March 2005, they reached a settlement agreement that the parties intended “to achieve a global peace in the publishing industry.” In re Literary Works in Electronic Databases Copyright Litigation, 509 F.3d 116, 119 (C.A.2 2007).

The parties moved the District Court to certify a class for settlement and to approve the settlement agreement. Ten freelance authors, including Irvin Muchnick (hereinafter Muchnick respondents), objected. The District Court overruled the objections; certified a settlement class of freelance authors under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a) and (b)(3); approved the settlement as fair, reasonable, and adequate under Rule 23(e); and entered final judgment. At no time did the Muchnick respondents or any other party urge the District Court to dismiss the case, or to refuse to certify the class or approve the settlement, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

The Muchnick respondents appealed, renewing their objections to the settlement on procedural and substantive grounds. Shortly before oral argument, the Court of Appeals sua sponte ordered briefing on the question whether § 411(a) deprives federal courts of subject-matter jurisdiction over infringement claims involving unregistered copyrights. All parties filed briefs asserting that the District Court had subject-matter jurisdiction to approve the settlement agreement even though it included unregistered works.

Relying on two Circuit precedents holding that § 411(a)'s registration requirement was jurisdictional, see 509 F.3d, at 121 (citing Well–Made Toy Mfg. Corp. v. Goffa Int'l Corp., 354 F.3d 112, 114–115 (C.A.2 2003); Morris v. Business Concepts, Inc., 259 F.3d 65, 72–73 (C.A.2 2001)), the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to certify a class of claims arising from the infringement of unregistered works, and also lacked jurisdiction to approve a settlement with respect to those claims, 509 F.3d, at 121 (citing “widespread agreement among the circuits that section 411(a) is jurisdictional”).2

Judge Walker dissented. He concluded “that § 411(a) is more like the [nonjurisdictional] employee-numerosity requirement in Arbaugh [v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006) ] than the jurisdictional statutory time limit in Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205, 127 S.Ct. 2360, 168 L.Ed.2d 96 (2007). 509 F.3d, at 129. Accordingly, he reasoned that § 411(a)'s registration requirement does not limit federal subject-matter jurisdiction over infringement suits involving unregistered works. Ibid.

We granted the owners' and publishers' petition for a writ of certiorari, and formulated the question presented to ask whether § 411(a) restricts the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal courts over copyright infringement actions. 555 U.S. 1211, 129 S.Ct. 1523, 173 L.Ed.2d 655 (2009). Because no party supports the Court of Appeals' jurisdictional holding, we appointed an amicus curiae to defend the Court of Appeals' judgment.3 556 U.S. 1161, 129 S.Ct. 1693, 173 L.Ed.2d 1053 (2009). We now reverse.


“Jurisdiction” refers to “a court's adjudicatory authority.” Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443, 455, 124 S.Ct. 906, 157 L.Ed.2d 867 (2004). Accordingly, the term “jurisdictional” properly applies only to “prescriptions delineating the classes of cases (subject-matter jurisdiction) and the persons (personal jurisdiction) implicating that authority. Ibid.; see also Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 89, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998) (“subject-matter jurisdiction” refers to “the courts' statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case (emphasis in original)); Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U.S. 244, 274, 114 S.Ct. 1483, 128 L.Ed.2d 229 (1994) ([J]urisdictional statutes ‘speak to the power of the court rather than to the rights or obligations of the parties' (quoting Republic Nat. Bank of Miami v. United States, 506 U.S. 80, 100, 113 S.Ct. 554, 121 L.Ed.2d 474 (1992) (THOMAS, J., concurring))).

While perhaps clear in theory, the distinction between jurisdictional conditions and claim-processing rules can be confusing in practice. Courts—including this Court—have sometimes mischaracterized claim-processing rules or elements of a ...

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