"It is thus highly probable that a significant number of additional sound recordings in suit were also inaccurately registered," states Charter, adding, "It is black-letter law that an applicant’s knowing misstatement to the Copyright Office regarding a work’s author can invalidate the copyright registration, which deprives the applicant of standing to sue for infringement of that work."
The record labels respond that Charter can't identify any cases in which a court invalidated the registration of a plaintiff who owned a copyrighted work because it was incorrectly designated a work for hire on the registration. They add that work-for-hire designations are "complex" and "cannot give rise to the kind of bad faith necessary to invalidate a registration as a fraud."
The budding dispute has implications even beyond this case thanks to termination provisions under copyright law. Authors can reclaim rights after waiting a period of time — typically, 35 years for newer works — but can't terminate any work made for hire. That's because the employer is seen to be the statutory author of the work. Right now, there are putative class actions against Sony and UMG for resisting termination notices — and if that case gets past a motion to dismiss, discovery may ensue.
The piracy case against Charter may provide an alternative avenue to resolving the big issue over whether record labels have skeletons in the closet. In seeking additional discovery, the ISP even nods to how some artists are now suing.
"In reality, due to Plaintiffs’ systematic practice of misrepresenting authorship status to the Copyright Office, artists are routinely forced to institute disputes, which the labels vigorously challenge in order to defend their much more beneficial claim as 'author,'" states Charter. "While Plaintiffs’ counsel shrugged off any suggestion that the underlying artists may take issue with Plaintiffs’ WFH designation or rights, the many cases artists have filed against them regarding this scheme belies that claim."
This article originally appeared in THR.com.