Siding With Copyright Office, Ninth Circuit Rules That Applications for Photo Compilations Need Not List All Authors’ Names

Author: Brian R. Westley

In a victory for stock photography agencies, the Ninth Circuit ruled this month that applicants seeking to register compilations of photographs with the Copyright Office do not need to name each individual author. The Fourth Circuit recently reached the same conclusion in a case involving a real estate listing service.

Alaska Stock, LLC v. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. involved the stock photography agency Alaska Stock, which registered large numbers of images at a time, but listed only some of the authors. Alaska Stock granted publishing company Houghton Mifflin a license to use individual images for fees based on the number of publications. When Houghton Mifflin exceeded the number of publications it had paid for, Alaska Stock sued for injunctive relief and damages. 2014 WL 1013129 (9th Cir. Mar. 18, 2014).

The district court, siding with Houghton Mifflin, dismissed Alaska Stock’s claims on the ground that its copyright registrations were defective because they failed to provide the names of each photographer and the title of each image. These deficiencies led the court to conclude that the registrations covered the compilations but not the individual images within them.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, deferring to the Copyright Office’s longstanding position that only the author of a collective work need be identified in the application, or, in the case of multiple authors, the names of three authors followed by “and others.”

The Fourth Circuit recently reached the same conclusion in Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc. v. American Home Realty Network, Inc., 722 F.3d 591 (4th Cir. 2013), where it held that registration of real estate listings as a database covered the individual photographs contained within  the listings.

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