Last year, the US Copyright Claims Board went live. Through this Copyright Office-hosted venue, copyright holders can try to recoup alleged damages outside the federal court system.
The board aims to make it cheaper for creators to resolve disputes. There’s no attorney required and the filing fee is limited to $100 per claim. Accused parties also benefit as the potential damages are capped at $30,000. Those who prefer traditional lawsuits can choose to opt-out.
The benefits of the board are clear to many rightsholders. Opponents, however, feared that the system could be used by opportunistic rightsholders to extract ‘easy money’ from less law-savvy individuals.
One Year Anniversary
The CCB celebrates its one-year anniversary this month so that presents a good opportunity to take stock of the results achieved thus far. From June 2022 to the end of last year, 281 claims were filed at the CCB, with a further 221 cases filed in the first half of 2023.
That means 502 claims were submitted to the Copyright Claims Board in the first twelve months of operation. That’s a significant number, but it doesn’t mean that all of these cases ended with an award for damages. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
Our review of CCB dockets indicates just one case where a final verdict was handed down. In February, the board awarded $1,000 to a photographer who discovered that his work was being used on the website of a California-based law practice. The award was significantly lower than the $30,000 initially requested.
Dismissals and Opt Outs
The vast majority of all cases at the CCB are dismissed or resolved without damages, often due to deficiencies in the filings. A claim against Cloudflare, for example, was not a proper copyright complaint according to the board.
Meanwhile, UFC distributor Joe Hand Promotions settled several of its copyright infringement claims against bars and restaurants. These cases were taken off the dockets as well.
At the time of writing, 305 cases have been closed. This includes 40 claims where the defendant chose to opt out. A total of 197 cases are pending and yet to be resolved. This includes several where default judgments are on the horizon after defendants failed to respond.
Where are the Trolls?
When the Copyright Claims Board was first introduced, there was quite a lot of pushback. Several opponents feared that “copyright trolls” would abuse the system to launch a wave of claims against alleged online pirates. That fear didn’t materialize.
While there are many types of copyright trolls, there hasn’t been a single file-sharing piracy case submitted to the CCB. This makes sense, as the board is not meant to issue third-party subpoenas, meaning that rightsholders can’t file a case against a John Doe who’s only known by an IP address.
In theory, rightsholders could try to use a traditional DMCA subpoena to obtain the personal details of an alleged pirate and then go to the CCB. However, this hasn’t happened yet and if it ever did, the CCB has a cap on the number of cases that can be filed per year.
With 20 claims, Joe Hand Promotions is the most prolific filer. The company requests damages from establishments that stream UFC content without permission. The company also files cases in federal courts but the small claims board is a cheaper option, also for defendants.
Thus far, trolling behavior is noticeably absent. Instead, many claims come from smaller creators and rightsholders, who often accuse larger companies such as Instagram, Amazon, UMG, Sony Music, Warner Music, and YouTube of copyright infringement. Whether any of these claims will ultimately result in damages has yet to be seen.