Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Puzzling (to me) 7th Circuit Cypress Hill copyright decision

In Johnson v. Cypress Hill, No. 08-3810 (7th Cir. June 1, 2011), the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment against a plaintiff who claimed that the hip-hop group Cypress Hill infringed his alleged copyright in a 1969 sound recording. Because it’s a 1969 (i.e., pre-1972) sound recording, however, the plaintiff could not have had a copyright in it under 17 USC § 301(c).

After getting poured out on summary judgment, the plaintiff (among other arguments) asked the district court and then the 7th Circuit to rule that the dismissal was not on the merits but rather due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction (because he possessed no copyright). The Seventh Circuit refused, holding that Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, 130 S. Ct. 1237 (2010) “foreclosed” that argument.

But I thought Reed Elsevier held only that lack of a copyright registration was not a jurisdictional requirement. In the Cypress Hill case, by contrast, the issue isn’t whether a copyright was registered, but whether any copyright exists at all. How does Reed Elsevier foreclose the argument that where no copyright exists at all there is no subject matter jurisdiction under the Copyright Act?

Any thoughts?

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