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I am not a lawyer, but...

If anyone's been following the Authors Guild class-action lawsuit against publishers, you may already know that a federal appeals court made an important ruling on it yesterday. I didn't until Erik Sherman pointed it out. Let me see if I can use my reporter training to boil this down: The authors were annoyed that publishers put their work online (or in databases like Lexis) without paying for electronic copyright. They sued. They reached a settlement, but some of them objected, so the publishers appealed to Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals court found that the local court doesn't have jurisdiction over the vast majority of the works at issue, because almost none of them registered for an official copyright. Despite how this sounds, it's not a question of re-filing in the right venue, as far as I can tell; the appeals court believes they simply don't have a case under the law. Basically, it said that if you don't copyright something, you can't sue when your unregistered copyright is infringed. (This ruling can be overturned by a full panel of the court, and technically only applies to federal lawsuits filed in NY, VT and CT. So they can still bring personal-injury cases in state court, although who knows if the plaintiffs have the energy for more litigation.)

Regardless of my personal opinion on this -- and believe me, I have one -- the lesson is clear: If you value it enough to consider suing over copyright infringement, register the copyright. (You're still in the clear over breach of contract lawsuits.) I don't really worry about re-selling electronic rights, but if you do or think you might in the future, look through your contracts for electronic-rights information too.