Ninth Circuit Holds Stock Photography Collection Registration Protects Individual Images, Defers to Longstanding Copyright Office Practice

By Amanda BringsImage

In Alaska Stock, LLC v. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Pub. Co., the Ninth Circuit recently weighed in on the much-contested issue of whether the copyright registration for a photograph collection protects the individual images within the collection. Adopting the approach of the Fourth and Fifth circuits, the court held that when a stock photography agency registers a collection of images and the agency has ownership rights in both the collection and the individual images, the registration covers both the collection as a whole and the individual images.

The case arose when Alaska Stock, a stock photography agency, filed a complaint against the major publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) alleging that HMH committed copyright infringement when it exceeded its license to use Alaska Stock’s images. HMH moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that Alaska Stock did not have valid copyright registrations for the individual images under 17 U.S.C. § 409, and therefore could not bring suit under 17 U.S.C. § 411(a), which makes registration a precondition for an infringement action. Continue reading