On May 1, 2019, Representative Hakeem Jeffries (“Jeffries”), a Democrat from the State of New York, and Representative Doug Collins, a Republican from the State of Georgia, introduced a bill that would make it easier for writers, musicians and artists to sue for copyright infringement by establishing a small claims court for copyright law.

The “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement”, or “Case” for short, is being introduced to lower the cost of litigation by establishing a Copyright Claims Board within the Copyright Office that would handle copyright disputes of up to $30,000. Normally, these claims have to be filed in Federal Court, typically by a lawyer, at substantial expense to the claimant. Unfortunately for creative professionals, Case would also allow defendants to opt out of the proceedings within 60 days and have the dispute resolved in court.

Jeffries stated, “Copyright enforcement is essential to ensure that these artists, writers, musicians and other creators are able to commercialize their creative work in order to earn a livelihood…The Case Act will enable creators to enforce copyright protected content in a fair, timely and affordable manner.”

An identical bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate on May 2, 2019 by Senators John Kennedy (“Kennedy”), a Republican from Louisina, Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, and Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii.

“Creative ideas are your property, whether you’re a photographer or an independent movie director…It shouldn’t cost you a fortune to protect your creativity from copyright infringement,” Kennedy stated.

Many organizations that represent small artists and creators expressed their support for the bill, including the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association (“NPPA”).

Michael King, president of the NPPA, said “many photographers do not have the time or money to pursue litigation against infringers of their work… The manner in which infringement persists without a workable remedy is economically devastating for photographers, their clients and their employers… It is our hope that the balanced nature of the ‘Case Act’ provides a real solution for photographers and other authors.”

This is not the first time the “Case Act” has been proposed. In the fall of 2017, Jeffries also introduced the bill only to see it go nowhere due to opposition from tech and internet companies that have warned the bill could be abused by so-called copyright trolls. And as soon as the bill was introduced on May 1, 2019, Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that focuses on intellectual property in the digital space, announced its opposition to the bill, saying it undermines Supreme Court precedent and that $30,000 should not be considered a small claim.

Author’s Commentary:

Case would provide a fast track for artists to bring their copyright infringement claims without the financial burden imposed on them through expensive litigation. Case would also bring a much needed path to speedy trials for smaller cases through the Copyright Claims Board which would ease the case burden on our already backed up court system.

* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is a boutique entertainment and business litigation firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The Firm has extensive experience handling cases involving business, entertainment law and intellectual property, having provided top quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized in multiple publications for its many achievements and high ethical standards, including Martindale-Hubbell and Super Lawyers.

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