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House Approves Legislation to Create Copyright Small Claims Board

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By Shalayne L. Pillar and David G. Barker

On October 22, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 410-6 in favor of the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019, or CASE Act.  If passed into law, the CASE Act would create a voluntary small claims board within the U.S. Copyright Office, called the Copyright Claims Board.  Lawsuits filed under the CASE Act would allow recovery up to $30,000, with a cap of $15,000 for statutory damages per work infringed.

The CASE Act seeks to address the high cost of copyright litigation, which often limits the ability of small businesses and individuals to sue for copyright infringement.  The CASE Act addresses this issue by offering a streamlined process that would allow for remote participation without an attorney.

The CASE Act is strongly supported by groups like Copyright Alliance, which claims that small copyright owners (such as photographers, graphic designers, songwriters, bloggers, and YouTubers) are currently prevented from enforcing their rights due to the high cost and complexity of federal litigation.

However, the CASE Act is not without criticism.  One opponent, the American Civil Liberties Union, argues the CASE Act lacks procedural safeguards and could be abused by “copyright trolls” or by those seeking to silence free speech on the internet.   Opponents also argue that the CASE Act would affect every person who communicates online and expose millions of Americans to liability who unknowingly violate copyright law.

Notably, under the current legislation, the Copyright Claims Board is a voluntary alternative, and those accused of infringement may opt out. A mandatory process might implicate the Seventh Amendment’s right to a jury trial.

The CASE Act now heads to the Senate for a full vote.  Although the Senate Judiciary Committee already approved companion legislation, it has yet to receive a vote in the full chamber.