As we reported in April, a class action against Westlaw and Lexis is pending before Judge Rakoff, claiming that both online database providers infringe the copyrights of lawyers whose legal briefs are made available online. The WSJ Law Blog reports that on Wednesday, from the bench, Judge Rakoff dismissed from the case the subclass of lawyer-plaintiffs who had not registered their briefs with the copyright office:
Judge Rakoff: Well, I mean the place obviously to start is with 17 U.S.C. Section 411(a); “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.” By definition, the sub class that’s at issue here today have not complied with that. So how can they bring a civil action? Mr. Blue: Your Honor, obviously in our papers the position we’ve taken is that Mr. Elan, who is not registered, as well as the class that he represents, are entitled to two forms of relief even without registration. And that would be an injunction and the declaratory judgment. Judge Rakoff: Yes. Now these, of course, are remedies. They are not, themselves, a form of action. But even assuming they were, the statute is unequivocal; that compliance with registration or preregistration is a precondition of filing a claim.
Judge Rakoff’s ruling was only a partial dismissal. The claims of the subclass of lawyers who have registered a copyright in their briefs will proceed.