Supreme Court to Clarify Copyright Act Knowledge and Publication Standards: Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, LP: Addendum

By Carolyn Wimbly Martin and Charlotte Cuccia

This post is an update. Read the original post here.

We previously reported on Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, LP, in which designer Unicolors asked the Supreme Court to decide if under the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act (“PRO IP Act”) an inadvertent mistake of law invalidates a copyright registration. On February 24, 2022, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of the statute and found for Unicolors, holding that an applicant’s inadvertent legal mistake should not invalidate a copyright registration.

The Court’s 6-3 decision, authored by Justice Breyer, holds that the PRO IP Act “does not distinguish between a mistake of law and a mistake of fact” and that neither type of inadvertent mistake invalidates a certificate of registration. Because applicants such as authors, artists and designers often lack legal training, inaccurate information in a registration can frequently arise from mistakes of both fact and law, and Congress’s intention in enacting the PRO IP Act was to “make it easier, not more difficult” for applicants to obtain valid copyright registrations. Unicolors v. H&M, 595 U.S. ___ (2022).

In addressing the arguments put forth by H&M, the Court notes that judges need not automatically accept a copyright holder’s claim of ignorance and that willful blindness may still support a finding of actual knowledge. Other evidence may be relevant to help decide if a copyright holder is acting in bad faith, but H&M’s focus on “ignorance of the law [being] no excuse” is not applicable in this case. Unicolors v. H&M, 595 U.S. ___ (2022).

This finding should be welcome news to both copyright holders and those interested in pursuing copyright registration. Lutzker & Lutzker is available to assist with these registrations and answer any questions that arise from the often complex process.