Capping off an October trio of copyright decisions, the Eleventh Circuit in Fastcase, Inc. v. Lawriter, LLC, 2018 WL 5318148 (11th Cir. Oct. 29, 2018), confirmed that the failure to register a copyright does not defeat federal subject-matter jurisdiction (though it may doom an infringement claim under Rule 12(b)(6)). The court also held that a plaintiff’s potential liability may be considered as part of the amount in controversy when assessing diversity jurisdiction.
Fastcase and Lawriter are competitors in the market for legal research services. Their dispute concerns access to the Georgia Administrative Rules and Regulations. Georgia’s Secretary of State is statutorily required to publish the regulations to the public. Fastcase, under a contract with the State Bar of Georgia, is paid by the Bar to provide a database of Georgia law, including the regulations, to Bar members. To keep its database current, Fastcase visits the regulations’ official webpage, which historically has been maintained by the Secretary of State. In 2015, however, the Secretary entered into a contract with Lawriter under which Lawriter publishes the regulations on the Secretary’s website in exchange for a $5,000 quarterly fee—though the fee is waived if Lawriter sells a “complete set” of the regulations to a third party, which the contract allows it to do.
The Eleventh Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Tjoflat and joined by Judge Jordan and Judge Robert Lewis Hinkle, visiting from the Northern District of Florida, reversed. The fact that Lawriter had no registered copyright might subject a hypothetical infringement claim to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), but under the Supreme Court’s decision in Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, 559 U.S. 154 (2010), the non-registration of a copyright “does not restrict a federal court’s subject-matter jurisdiction.” So the district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a).
Posted by Valerie Sanders.