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Small Copyright Claims Court Legislation Foreseen

July 26th 2016

Stacks of old books

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill, entitled the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2016, H.R. 5757, that would establish an accessible and efficient forum to resolve “small” copyright claims. The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), would allow individual authors to protect their intellectual property rights without having to file expensive and complicated federal lawsuits.

The Authors Guild has been actively advocating for a small copyright claims court since 2006, when we testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the need for such a venue, citing an Authors Guild survey that revealed most authors do not have effective access to the courts for many of their copyright infringement claims. As the threats to authors’ copyright incentives have increased since that time—due to the growth of digital book piracy and courts’ reluctance to enforce digital rights—so have our efforts to establish a small claims court.

The Guild has been working with Congressman Jeffries’ office on this proposal for several months. It deals with many of the difficult issues involved with creating an effective small copyright claims tribunal.

“We thank and congratulate Congressmen Jeffries and Marino for introducing this important piece of legislation,” said Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger. “The Authors Guild strongly supports this bill,” she continued. “The legislation will finally provide authors with a means of enforcing their rights. Federal court litigation is unaffordable to most authors and other creators, and so they have been left with unenforceable rights. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to ensure that the legislation creates a tribunal that is accessible, navigable, and fair to authors—without having to hire lawyers.”

The proposed bill is based largely on draft legislation developed by the Copyright Office in its 2013 Report on Copyright Small Claims, a document prepared after holding public hearings and soliciting written comments from individual authors, industry groups (including the Authors Guild), publishers, technology companies, scholars, and other stakeholders.

The problems that H.R. 5757, the CASE Act, addresses have long vexed authors, especially those without the resources to pursue federal copyright claims. The costs of obtaining counsel and maintaining a copyright cause of action in federal court effectively preclude most individual copyright owners whose works are clearly infringed from being able to vindicate their rights and deter continuing violations. Moreover, sometimes authors want to put an end to infringements that are causing a relatively small amount of economic damage. In such cases, the prospect of a small recovery dissuades some copyright holders from filing a suit that costs more to file than the potential recovery. This means that many individual authors have rights without a remedy—in other words, no real rights at all.

“On an individual level, the inability to enforce one’s rights undermines the economic incentive to continue investing in the creation of new works,” said Rasenberger. “On a collective level, the inability to enforce rights corrodes respect for the rule of law and deprives society of the benefit of new and expressive works of authorship.”

The CASE Act will establish a Copyright Claims Board consisting of three Copyright Claims Officers to be appointed by the Librarian of Congress and two Copyright Claims Attorneys to be appointed by the Register of Copyrights. The Board would be implemented pursuant to regulations adopted by the Register of Copyrights, and would be located at the Copyright Office. Participation in the tribunal would be on a voluntary basis and would not interfere with either party’s right to a jury trial.

“The Authors Guild looks forward to working with both houses of Congress to see that a Copyright Small Claims Court is finally established,” said Rasenberger. “Too many authors have been left without real remedies for too long.”


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