SCOTUS Holds Copyright Act’s Safe Harbor Provision Protects Good-Faith Mistakes


Recently, the Supreme Court found that a copyright registration was valid even though the application for registration included a mistake that was determined to be of a legal nature. In Unicolors Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., 142 S. Ct. 941 (Feb. 24, 2022), the Court found that although Unicolors had been unaware that its inclusion of 31 fabric designs in one copyright application did not satisfy the “single unit of publication” requirement because not all of the designs were directed to the same groups of customers, the filing of the application by Unicolors was not an act performed “with knowledge that it was inaccurate.” For this reason, the Court determined that the registration is protected by a safe harbor provision in the Copyright Act that extends to both mistakes of fact and mistakes of law. The Court reasoned that both the Copyright Act itself and its legislative history indicate that an applicant’s good-faith mistakes should not preclude the applicant from obtaining a valid registration. A key takeaway from Unicolors is that getting it right from the start is important, especially with complex areas of IP procurement.  Innocent mistakes may be forgivable, but it can take a trip to the Supreme Court to get forgiveness.