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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

Passage of COVID Relief Bill Changes Copyright Law

Last month, the CASE Act was signed into law by President Trump as part of the massive 5,593-page, $1.4-trillion omnibus spending and COVID-19 relief bill, titled the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.

Originally, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (“CASE”) Act was introduced in 2019 to establish a copyright small claims system that allows copyright creators to take action against infringers on a smaller scale than filing lawsuits in federal court.

Supporters have argued that the bill addresses perceived disparities between large and small copyright holders. More specifically, they contend that because most copyright infringement in the U.S. is of relatively lower value (i.e. in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars), a “national small claims system” would allow photographers, musicians, and other artists to have an alternative to hiring pricey copyright attorneys, who generally prefer to take on cases with relatively larger monetary payouts.

Under the CASE Act, a copyright infringement claimant need not file a federal lawsuit, but instead may bring infringement claims before a “Copyright Claims Board” within the U.S. Copyright Office — a three-member panel of “experts” in copyright law. This panel would be able to award copyright owners up to $15,000 per work and $30,000 per claim, assuming the works are registered with the office. Additionally, the board could also simply send the infringer a notice to cease the infringement.

Parties may opt-out of this small claims process. As soon as a claim is filed, the accused infringer has 60 days to reject the process, forcing it to be heard in federal court instead. Decisions of the Claims Board can also be appealed in federal court not unlike typical general practice small claims actions in state court.

Opponents of the bill have argued for years that the CASE Act worsens rather than improves the complicated problem of online copyright infringement, specifically because it creates a system that will harm everyday users who, unlike bigger corporate interests, will not have the time and capacity to negotiate this new bureaucracy.

Further, opponents worry that the CASE Act is merely a dangerous precursor to another bill, the so-called Digital Copyright Act, being promoted by Senator Thom Tillis, that will rewrite decades of copyright law, give the Copyright Office the keys to the Internet, and drastically undermine speech and innovation in the name of policing copyright infringement.

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