On Monday, April 13th, an author based in southern California filed suit against Joss Whedon and Lionsgate Entertainment alleging that the movie Cabin in the Woods infringed the author’s copyright in his book, “The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines.”
There are a couple of lessons to be gleaned from the suit. To set up the first lesson, here is a quote from the complaint:
PLAINTIFF is the author and owner of all exclusive rights under copyright of the literary work entitled The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines (the “Book”). PLAINTIFF registered the Book with the Writers Guild of America (“WGA”) in or about July 2007. PLAINTIFF has filed a complete application to register the Book for copyright registration with the United States Copyright Office. PLAINTIFF reserves the right to amend this Complaint upon receipt of the issued registration certificate.
The plaintiff published the book in 2006, and registered it with the Writers Guild of America in 2007. The author’s copyright registration is still pending, which implies that the registration was filed less than a year ago.
Had the author applied for copyright registration at the same time as he filed for WGA registration (a mere $85 application fee), he would have been entitled to statutory damages (up to $150,000 per infringement if willful). Because the author did not, he is limited to recovering actual damages for any infringement to-date.
In some parts of the country, having a pending application for registration is not enough to bring suit – you need a finalized registration from the copyright office.
Registering your copyright early saves time, money, and offers you better protections should your work be infringed down the line.