A question we often get asked by copyright owners and potential copyright defendants alike is whether a copyright registration for a collective work also operates to register the copyrights in the individual component works. This issue most often comes up with respect to registrations for collective works for collections of artwork and photographs, but can really apply to any collective work.
In Alaska Stock LLC v. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 747 F.3d 673 (9th Cir. 2014), the Ninth Circuit ruled that the registration of a collective work can, in fact, operate to register both the collective work and, independently, the individual component works in the collective work. As explained by the Ninth Circuit, there are two key elements that must be satisfied for a collective work registration to also operate the individual component works. First, the registrant of the collective work also must own the individual component works. Second, the registrant must comply with the guidelines promulgated by the United States Copyright Office for registering image libraries and other component works.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Alaska Stock should go a long way to clarifying this important question of copyright law.