ALASKA STOCK V. HOUGHTON MIFFLIN

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 03-18-2014
  • Case #: 10-36010
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Court Judge Kleinfeld for the Court; Circuit Court Judges O’Scannalain and Callahan.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Copyright Act, where photographers assign their ownership of copyrights in their images to a stock agency and the stock agency has registered the complete collection as a whole, both the collective work and the individual images are registered. This includes situations where the copyright registration application lacks the individual name of each photographer, and lacks specific titles for each photograph.

Alaska Stock, a stock photography agency, registered CD catalogues of an immense amount of photographs at a time, as allowed by the Register of Copyrights. The Copyright Office determined that the photographers had assigned ownership of their copyrights even though the registration listed only some of the authors , and none of the names for each photograph. The panel addressed whether registering a copyright claim for a “collective work” effectively registered the individual “component works” within it, or just the unbroken collective work. The panel held that copyright registration of a whole collection does in fact register the individual works within it, thereby reversing the district court’s dismissal of the initial copyright infringement action. The panel determined that the Register of Copyrights had authority to allow this kind of procedure and grant certificates simultaneously covering registration to individual photographs within a collection, as well as the collection as a whole work, even in situations where, like here, the names of each photographer, and titles for each photograph, were not provided on their registration application. Deferring to the analysis of other Circuits, the panel agreed it was proper to defer to the Copyright Office’s interpretation of the Copyright Act. Thus, the panel held that photographers who assign their ownership of their copyrights to a stock agency, where the stock agency has registered the complete collection, both the collective work and the individual images are effectively registered. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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