In addition to a felony streaming law, Congress’s newly passed $2.3 trillion stimulus and spending package includes the CASE Act, which would establish a “copyright small claims” court.
The 5,593-page-long stimulus bill’s “intellectual property” section begins on page 2,539 and starts with the aforementioned felony streaming law, before transitioning directly into the CASE Act. Worth quickly noting is that the revived Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act made its way through the House last October, by a vote of 410 to 6.
This latest iteration of the CASE Act builds the foundation for “an alternative forum in which parties may voluntarily seek to resolve certain copyright claims regarding any category of copyrighted work.” It appears to be largely the same as the edition passed by the House in 2019.
If signed into law as part of the stimulus bill — which is largely expected — the CASE Act would establish a three-member Copyright Claims Board (CCB), with the “Copyright Claims Officers” recommended by the register of copyrights and formally appointed by the librarian of Congress. Based out of the Copyright Office, each officer would be a licensed attorney with seven or more years of legal experience to his or her credit, with two of the professionals having “substantial experience in the evaluation, litigation, or adjudication of copyright infringement claims” on the side of both media owners and users.
The third Copyright Claims Officer “shall have substantial familiarity with copyright law” as well as alternative dispute resolution experience, and at least two full-time attorneys, with three or more years of copyright-law experience apiece, would assist the Board. Officers’ terms would last six years, though the first and second Board appointees would serve initial terms of four and five years, respectively.
From there, the lengthy CASE Act reiterates that the three-person panel would essentially function as a small-claims court for disputes concerning copyright, besides outlining officers’ possible conflicts of interest and reasons for recusing themselves.
Parties would “voluntarily” participate in hearings before the Board, with the “right of any party” to pursue a case or legal matter in a different court, “or any other forum,” specifically “preserved” by the legislation. Importantly, though, any entity that fails to “opt out” of a dispute before the CCB within 60 days of receiving the notice “loses the opportunity to have the dispute decided by a court… and waives the right to a jury trial.”
Additionally, the Copyright Claims Board wouldn’t hear “unsuitable” cases involving disputes outside of the realm of copyright, cases decided by or “pending before” any “court of competent jurisdiction,” or cases filed against persons or companies based outside of the U.S. (Non-residents can initiate CCB cases on their own accord, however.)
Finally, in terms of the reach of the CCB’s decisions, statutory damages are capped at $15,000 for each work “timely registered under section 412” and $7,500 for each work that wasn’t timely registered. The CASE Act limits damages to $30,000 per case, not including legal fees. Interestingly, losing parties can submit a request for reconsideration to the CCB and, if the request is denied, file for a review directly from the register of copyrights.
The CASE Act has plenty of critics, including those that fear a massive increase in copyright trolling. Others are celebrating the bill and its ability to grant copyright owners a quicker and less-expensive legal remedy for infringement. The Songwriters Guild of America (SGA), for example, celebrated Congress’s voting in favor of the stimulus/spending bill and, in turn, the CASE Act. As part of the release, 18-year SGA President Rick Carnes addressed the copyright small claims court in a statement.
“SGA is extremely proud of having taken a leading role from start to finish in helping to forge this legislative solution with the assistance of the US Copyright Office, which will oversee implementation and operation of the new system. In the meanwhile, of course, SGA will continue to monitor all new developments carefully,” he said.