One of the biggest problems for authorial artists is enforcing their rights under U.S. Copyright law, whether managing a portfolio of paintings, plays, television scripts, textile patterns, photographs, what-have-you. It’s frustrating to go through the trouble of properly registering the latest masterpiece with the U.S. Copyright Office, discover an unauthorized use of that masterpiece . . . and then be reduced to yelling empty threats of litigation that the author almost certainly cannot afford.
Over the past few months, the legal world has been aflutter about the passage of the CASE Act—the Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement Act—essentially an arbitration for those who cannot afford (or wish to avoid) federal court when disputing a copyright. If it works, this legislation will be a boon to U.S. authors in all creative fields.
The CASE Act will be administered through the U.S. Copyright Office and specifically by a “Copyright Claims Board” (the “CCB”). The CCB will attempt to keep the parties’ costs down with modest filing fees (relative to federal court), conducting the proceedings through electronic means (saving on travel and appearance costs), and limiting the amount of awards to $30,000 (though attorney’s fees and court costs may be added above that). Procedures will be modeled after those we see with alternative dispute resolution services, with one government attorney deciding cases involving $5,000 or less and a panel of three government attorneys deciding cases involving $5,001 to $30,000.
Of course, there’s reason for concern, as the government tends not to be very good at anything. The Copyright Office only has a year from the date of passage to figure out actual fees, timelines for proceedings, how to prevent harassment from copyright trolls, and more. Additionally, for the CCB to stay in line with the Constitution, it could only be implemented as optional: any and every defendant has 60 days from service of notice and claim to opt out of this procedure, forcing any and every plaintiff back into federal court . . . or back to yelling empty threats of litigation that the author almost certainly cannot afford.
One non-monetary reason for using the CCB is that litigation is not all about money; many well-heeled individuals and businesses settle cases just to get rid of the stress and distraction of it all. Still, whether it be a plaintiff or defendant, the party with the larger war chest typically prefers federal court. It’s difficult to imagine, e.g., a mega-company relinquishing its economic advantage by accepting the option of a small claims venue. Any large company will typically choose between ignoring or settling a dispute against it and there’s no reason to assume the CASE Act will change that calculus.
Nevertheless, the advice from this law office remains the same now as before the CASE Act was passed: avoid litigation; settle your disputes through negotiation; don’t put your matters in the hands of some government bureaucrat.
If you need to consult with an attorney about the CASE Act, or any copyright infringement, please don’t hesitate to call us at 917-391-9468 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.