What to Know About the New Copyright Claims Board

What could the new Copyright Claims Board (“copyright small claims court”) mean for you?

Copyright Claims Board emblem

The Copyright Claims Board is scheduled to begin accepting claims on June 16, 2022. What could this mean for you?

The Purpose of the Copyright Claims Board

Due in large part to the Internet, copyright infringement is rampant. In many cases, however, enforcing copyrights in federal court is prohibitively expensive.

To begin with, there is a $350 filing fee and an additional $52 administrative fee, for a total of $402, just to get a case underway. After that, there will be subpoenas, depositions, witness fees, transcript costs, etc. Moreover, because copyright litigation is complex, litigants usually find it necessary to hire an attorney.  Add these additional expenses to the $402 filing fee, and a copyright owner can be looking at paying thousands of dollars just for a chance at enforcing his or her rights.

Under these circumstances, many infringement victims reasonably conclude that enforcing their rights against an infringer does not make good financial sense.

Congress enacted the CASE Act of 2020 to address the problem by creating an administrative tribunal that will hear small infringement claims. The new tribunal will have a lower filing fee and is supposed to be simple enough for a person to use without needing a lawyer.

Do you need to worry?

The definitions of copyright and copyright infringement are broad enough that everybody has probably been guilty of it at one time or another. A fair number of people have probably infringed copyrights multiple times. It is possible, for example, for an email message to be protected by copyright, so forwarding it without permission could be infringement. Photographs, memes, music, videos, essays, etc. are all potentially protected by copyright. Copying and sharing them on social media without permission could be infringement.

In some cases, a defense like fair use or implied license might provide some protection. Many people, however, misunderstand these defenses. They often interpret them much more broadly than is warranted.

The main reason copyright owners have not been suing infringers is not that they believe the infringers may have a valid defense. It’s that the cost of litigation has been too high, relative to the amount of damage suffered. The CASE Act is designed to reduce those costs considerably. Consequently, Internet users and other everyday people would be well advised to be a lot more cautious about sharing other people’s content.

Statutory damages

 A lot of people have the misimpression that so long as they are not making a profit from infringing a copyright, they are safe from a lawsuit. This is not true. Neither profit nor intent to profit needs to be proven in order to win a copyright infringement case. A copyright owner does not have to prove actual damage. He or she can request, and be awarded, statutory damages instead. These are damages that are authorized by statute without need for proof that the infringement caused any actual harm.

The CASE Act authorizes the CCB to make an award of up to $15,000 statutory damages per work when a timely registered copyright has been infringed, and up to $7,500 per work when an unregistered one has been infringed. (The total that may be awarded in one proceeding is $30,000.)

Opting out

Because CCB proceedings are voluntary, you have the right to opt out if you are served a CCB claim. The copyright owner is then free to file the claim in federal court. The range of remedies is broader and the amount of damages that may be awarded is higher in federal court.

Deciding whether or not to opt out will require careful consideration of the strength of the claim(s) and defense(s), the likely costs that each side will incur, and the level of exposure to damages and attorney fee awards in each kind of proceeding.

Why everyone should learn about the CCB

If you are a copyright owner, there is a very good chance that people have been infringing it, especially if you have displayed or published it online. The new CCB might make it feasible for you to do something about it even if you do not have the financial resources to file an infringement lawsuit in court.

If, like nearly everybody, you have shared a photograph, drawing, meme, music, recording, story, article, commentary, or email message that someone else created, without their permission, there is a chance that somebody may file a CCB claim against you.

If you are an attorney, you should know about all available avenues of recourse for copyright owners whose works have been infringed so that you can advise and represent your clients competently. Because more everyday people are likely to sue and be sued for copyright infringement than ever before, even attorneys whose primary area of practice is not intellectual property law should familiarize themselves with this new agency and the claim process.

Educational courses

I will be teaching courses on the new Copyright Claims Board and the new “small claims” process for copyright infringement. Some will be for non-attorneys; others will be for attorneys and paralegals. The first of these is being offered for continuing legal education credit for attorneys and paralegals through Echion CLE. It is an online webinar that will be offered on two different dates:

June 22, 2022 (Register)

July 13, 2022 (Register).

A course for non-attorneys is in the works.

For more information, visit EchionCLE.com.

Need help with a copyright matter? Get in touch.

Copyright Claims Board Begins Soon

The US Copyright Office has announced that the Copyright Claims Board will begin taking claims on June 16, 2022.

The U.S. Copyright Office has announced that the new Copyright Claims Board (CCB) will begin accepting claim filings on June 16, 2022.

Dubbed the “copyright small claims court,” the new administrative tribunal is a voluntary process for claims totaling up to $30,000. Although located in Washington, DC, proceedings will be conducted entirely electronically and remotely. It will not be necessary to travel to file or attend a hearing.

A party who is served a claim that has been filed with the CCB has a right to opt out. The party filing the claim then has the right to file the claim in court instead. The statute of limitations period is tolled while a CCB claim is pending.

The CCB has the power to issue a determination by default if a party fails to respond to a properly served claim or fails to participate in the proceeding without exercising the opt-out right. The CCB may also dismiss or issue a default determination against a claimant who fails to prosecute the claim, misses a deadline, or otherwise fails to comply with board rules.

Although registration is required before a final determination can be issued, it is not necessary to wait until an application has been either granted or denied before filing a claim. It is enough if an application to register the copyright has been filed.

Limitation on remedies

Total damages awarded cannot exceed $30,000. A claimant may elect either statutory damages, on one hand, or actual damages or lost profits on the other. A respondent may file a counterclaim, provided it is related to the original claim.

The CCB does not have the power to issue injunctions. It can, however, include in its determination a requirement that a party stop or modify certain activities if the party has agreed to do so.

Attorney fees and costs are not recoverable unless the other party has acted in bad faith. There is a $5,000 cap if the other party is represented by an attorney. Otherwise, the cap is $2,500. In some extraordinary circumstances, a higher amount may be awarded.

Review and appeal of CCB decisions

If you disagree with a CCB determination, review is available through:

  • Request for CCB reconsideration
  • Request for review by the Register of Copyrights

Judicial review is available only under limited circumstances.

Enforcement

If an infringer fails to pay the amount the CCB has ordered, the claimant may bring an action in federal district court to enforce payment.

Registration, forms and handbook

The CCB promises to have forms, handbook and the ability to begin registering users publicly available by June 16.

Need help with a copyright matter? Contact attorney Thomas James.

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