New Remedy for Small-time Copyright Owners

Tucked away in a corner of the December 2020 COVID relief bill was the CASE Act, a law relating to copyright infringement. Of course, because copyright has so much to do with pandemic relief.

Anyway, the CASE, or Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement, Act attempts to “streamline” copyright enforcement by creating a sort of small claims court within the US Copyright Office to handle smaller copyright infringement cases. Damages in this small claims court, called the Copyright Claims Board, would be limited to actual damages or statutory damages of up to $15,000. Total damages awarded by the Board cannot exceed $30,000. Damage awards can take into account whether the defendant has agreed to stop any infringing activity and destroy copies of infringing materials, so cooperation is probably the name of the game once you’ve received one of these complaints.

Adjudication of copyright matters before the Copyright Claims Board is voluntary, however, once an action has been initiated the defendant in a case must opt-out within 60 days or they waive their right to defend the case in court. Although the process is less formal than a “normal” lawsuit, it’s still complicated enough that many non-lawyers may struggle to understand and follow the procedures.

The Copyright Claims Board is intended to provide a venue for individual artists and smaller companies to pursue copyright claims which would be cost-prohibitive in a normal federal or state court. The “judges” will be full-time employees with copyright and legal experience, and who will be appointed by the Librarian of Congress in consultation with the Register of Copyrights.

The Act was widely supported by large arts organizations, but it was also subject to harsh criticism by others, including the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF). The EFF claims that the CASE act will lead to harsh penalties “for sharing a meme or making a video, with liability determined not by neutral judges but by biased bureaucrats.” While there is a limited right to appeal, EFF is concerned that the combination of copyright-inclined bureaucrats and complex guidelines will result in an unfair to the average internet user.

I’ll cover the process in more detail in a later post, but it will be interesting to see how well received this simpler – but not simple – copyright dispute resolution process is with copyright holders.

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