Bipartisan legislation to create streamlined copyright “small claims court” was passed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18 and now awaits a vote by the full senate.
The Senate version of the Copyright Alternatives in Small-Claims Enforcement Act in 2019 was introduced earlier this year by Senators John Kennedy (R-LA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI). It was joined by House legislation introduced by Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Ranking member Doug Collins (R-GA), as well as Intellectual Property Subcommittee Chairman Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Ranking Member Martha Roby (R-AL), and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).
The CASE Act was designed to solve a vexing problem in the creative arts — in a world where court litigation is painfully slow and exorbitantly expensive, is there realistic and affordable way for creators to meaningfully protect their rights?
Right now, copyright cases can only be heard in complex and expensive federal courts — not in local state or small claims courts. Federal court is fine if you are litigating a multimillion-dollar piracy case against Kim DotCom but just isn’t practical in most routine copyright disputes. For a photographer or musician whose work gets ripped off for a local ad or a graphic designer who thinks someone used her work in a logo without permission, it will almost always cost more to enforce their rights than they can recover in court.
The CASE Act solves this problem with a small claims procedure in the US Copyright Office. Creators can represent themselves or be supported by law students working pro bono and damages are capped at $30,000. Most importantly, the whole thing is voluntary for both sides so that defendants who prefer federal court (including the possibility of a trial by jury) can insist that any claim against them be heard there.
The unanimous “voice vote” in the Senate Committee was a good sign for the CASE Act and creators are working hard to push the full Senate to vote and for the House to act on its own version of this important legislation soon.