The Copyright Office doesn’t need a small claims court

The American Library Association (ALA), through the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), provided cautionary feedback on the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2017 (CASE Act) introduced by Representatives Tom Marino (R-PA 10th) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY 8th). Co-signers to the LCA letter included R Street Institute, the Authors Alliance, and Public Knowledge. The bill calls for the establishment of a small claims court for handling copyright infringement when the rights holders do not have the funds necessary to bring an infringement suit to federal court. For several years, visual artists, including photographers, the Authors Guild, the Copyright Alliance and others have called for an alternative judicial system to resolve copyright disputes, encourage licensing and be cost effective for the stakeholders involved. Small businesses, independent creators and authors do not have the resources to bring infringement suits and end up stymied by infringement they are unable to stop, license, or monetize.

an empty courtroom

Knox County (Neb.) Courthouse, Photo credit: Wikimedia

Congress asked the U.S. Copyright Office to study the issue and in 2013, after soliciting public comments and convening public roundtables, the Copyright Office published a report recommending that “a centralized tribunal within the Copyright Office” be created as an alternative to federal court. The CASE Act is based on those recommendations.

While the LCA understands “the challenges low-value infringement cases pose to individual artists,” LCA does not believe that the CASE Act would be an effective solution. Because participation in a small claims system would be voluntary, defendants would be unlikely to participate especially without an independent judicial review that is guaranteed in the federal court. LCA also argues that a voluntary claims process is already established in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A small claims system could be tested before establishing an additional system that people would be unlikely to use.

About Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the Director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office for Information Technology Policy. Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books and other public policy issues. She has a MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a MA in media arts from the University of Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at crussell@alawash.org.

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