17 U.S. Code § 410 - Registration of claim and issuance of certificate
The first two subsections of section 410 set forth the two basic duties of the Register of Copyrights with respect to copyright registration: (1) to register the claim and issue a certificate if the Register determines that “the material deposited constitutes copyrightable subject matter and that the other legal and formal requirements of this title have been met,” and (2) to refuse registration and notify the applicant if the Register determines that “the material deposited does not constitute copyrightable subject matter or that the claim is invalid for any other reason.”
Subsection (c) deals with the probative effect of a certificate of registration issued by the Register under subsection (a). Under its provisions, a certificate is required to be given prima facie weight in any judicial proceedings if the registration it covers was made “before or within five years after first publication of the work”; thereafter the court is given discretion to decide what evidentiary weight the certificate should be accorded. This five-year period is based on a recognition that the longer the lapse of time between publication and registration the less likely to be reliable are the facts stated in the certificate.
Under section 410(c), a certificate is to “constitute prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.” The principle that a certificate represents prima facie evidence of copyright validity has been established in a long line of court decisions, and it is a sound one. It is true that, unlike a patent claim, a claim to copyright is not examined for basic validity before a certificate is issued. On the other hand, endowing a copyright claimant who has obtained a certificate with a rebuttable presumption of the validity of the copyright does not deprive the defendant in an infringement suit of any rights, it merely orders the burdens of proof. The plaintiff should not ordinarily be forced in the first instance to prove all of the multitude of facts that underline the validity of the copyright unless the defendant, by effectively challenging them, shifts the burden of doing so to the plaintiff.
Section 410(d), which is in accord with the present practice of the Copyright Office, makes the effective date of registration the day when an application, deposit, and fee “which are later determined by the Register of Copyrights or by a court of competent jurisdiction to be acceptable for registration” have all been received. Where the three necessary elements are received at different times the date of receipt of the last of them is controlling, regardless of when the Copyright Office acts on the claim. The provision not only takes account of the inevitable timelag between receipt of the application and other material and the issuance of the certificate, but it also recognizes the possibility that a court might later find the Register wrong in refusing registration.
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