At the end of 2020, US Congress passed new legislation that officially introduced a “small claims” process for copyright disputes.
The CASE Act, short for “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement,” established a copyright claims board within the United States Copyright Office.
This three-member tribunal provides an option to resolve copyright disputes outside the federal courts, which significantly reduces the associated costs. As such, it aims to make it easier for smaller creators, such as photographers, to address copyright infringements.
First Claims This Week
Over the past year-and-a-half, the groundwork was laid for this new process and this Thursday the Copyright Claims Board (CCB) will start accepting the first claims.
The CCB is open to anyone and an attorney is not required to file or defend a claim. The filing fee is set at $100 and the maximum amount of monetary damages that can be awarded in a claim is $15,000 per work and $30,000 in total. The cases are resolved online and there are no in-person hearings.
The entire process is voluntary. Defendants can choose to opt-out if they don’t wish to participate. If that’s the case, the claiming party can still take their dispute to the federal court. Defendants who fail to opt out must defend themselves or risk a default judgment being entered against them.
When the plan 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.
How the CCB will be used will become clear in the months to come but it doesn’t appear to be a great venue for file-sharing cases. There is a limit on the number of cases a claiming party can file in a year, for example. These limits are 30 cases per year per party and 80 cases per law firm.
In addition, 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, however, rightsholders could try to use a DMCA subpoena to obtain personal details and then go to the CCB.
One of the unique characteristics of the board is that people can start a claim if a copyright registration is still in process. This is different from the federal court, where a completed registration is required to start a case.
At this point, it’s unclear how many claims will be filed and what these will be about. There could be hundreds of filings per month or just a handful. The types of cases can also vary greatly.
In addition to traditional copyright infringement claims, the CCB can also be used by people who believe that they are being wrongly accused. For example, to request a declaration of non-infringement, or to accuse a rightsholder of sending false DMCA takedown notices.
TorrentFreak will keep a close eye on cases submitted to the CCB during the weeks to come. If there are any notable trends or concerns, we will highlight these in a follow-up report.