Supreme Court hears oral arguments in surveillance and copyright cases
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Supreme Court hears oral arguments in surveillance and copyright cases

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in Federal Bureau of Investigation v. Fazaga and Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennese & Mauritz. While neither case is particularly high profile, both involve subtle interpretations of surveillance and copyright law, respectively.

In Fazaga, the FBI is being sued for allegedly conducting improper surveillance on a set of mosques between 2006 and 2007. The FBI employed an informant to collect information on and place recording devices in the homes of a group of Muslim Americans living in Southern California. A lawsuit was filed in 2011 but was dismissed based on state secrets privilege. This doctrine allows the government to potentially dismiss litigation that would require disclosure of information damaging to national security.

In 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision in part, holding that the district court should have reviewed the information in camera to determine whether the surveillance was lawful. The United States Supreme Court is now tasked to outline the contours concerning the relationship between the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the state secrets privilege doctrine.

Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennese & Mauritz, L.P involves a complicated copyright dispute between two clothing manufactures. Unicolors, who contend that H&M improperly used a copyrighted design, is accused of filing an improper copyright registration. H&M argues that this invalidates the copyright and alters the liability, even if they infringed on Unicolors perceived registration.

The statute requires that district courts ask the Register of Copyrights to assess whether the copyright would have been granted if the Register was aware the information was inaccurate. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had previously held that intent to defraud is not necessary and merely including inaccurate information can lead to copyright invalidation. The Supreme Court must now determine whether cases of known inaccuracy, but not intent to defraud, should be referred to the Register of Copyrights.