New Legislation Would Create a Small Claims Court for Copyright Infringement

3293465641_b6c5081e87_bNow would be a good time to invest in North Face, because Hell hath frozen over.

The Authors Guild is backing a piece of legislation I can actually support:

Today Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill, entitled the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2016, H.R. 5757, that would establish an accessible and efficient forum to resolve “small” copyright claims. The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), would allow individual authors to protect their intellectual property rights without having to file expensive and complicated federal lawsuits.

The Authors Guild has been actively advocating for a small copyright claims court since 2006, when we testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the need for such a venue, citing an Authors Guild survey that revealed most authors do not have effective access to the courts for many of their copyright infringement claims. As the threats to authors’ copyright incentives have increased since that time—due to the growth of digital book piracy and courts’ reluctance to enforce digital rights—so have our efforts to establish a small claims court. The Guild has been working with Congressman Jeffries’ office on this proposal for several months. It deals with many of the difficult issues involved with creating an effective small copyright claims tribunal.

I don’t agree with TAG on their reasons for liking this proposed legislation, but I would still support the law because there’s a clear benefit for creators.

I as a creator gain nothing from much of copyright law because I lack the means to fight for my rights in court. IP lawsuits cost more than I can afford to pay, and I’m not the only creator in that position.

This law would help to fix that problem.

“On an individual level, the inability to enforce one’s rights undermines the economic incentive to continue investing in the creation of new works,” said The Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger. “On a collective level, the inability to enforce rights corrodes respect for the rule of law and deprives society of the benefit of new and expressive works of authorship.”

On the other hand, it would also enable baseless harassment lawsuits and it wouldn’t be of much use if the infringing party is in another jurisdiction.

But the net positives still outweigh the negatives.

image by steakpinball

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

1 Comment

  1. Nat15 July, 2016

    “On a collective level, the inability to enforce rights corrodes respect for the rule of law and deprives society of the benefit of new and expressive works of authorship.”

    Other things that erode respect for copyright and/or deprive society of the new and expressive works:
    –excessively long copyright terms
    –regularly extending copyright terms to basically guarantee that nothing ever falls into the public domain ever again
    –money for licensing enriching publishers/studios/labels rather than creators
    –copyright laws that don’t make sense with current technology (the definition of “copying” for electronic content that some big publishers/studios/labels want to push would make viewing something that the publisher/studio/label is hosting on their website illegal, because it’s not possible to display something on your screen without creating a local copy, however ephemeral)
    –ridiculous overreaches on what constitutes copyright infringement
    –terms of use for digital content that are more restrictive than the equivalent content in physical format
    –challenging first sale doctrine
    –deliberately blurring the lines between sales and lease: most software has all of the downsides of ownership (the publisher isn’t responsible for problems once you buy it) without most of the upsides (control of what you do with the software, in many cases the ability to resell).
    –trying to undermine libraries and other legitimate methods of accessing content for free
    –filing new lawsuits *decades* after an alleged infringement became known, and/or only after the actual creator whose work was allegedly infringed has died.
    –claiming that a work with extremely tiny similarities is an infringement, while ignoring the fact that the allegedly infringed work shares much more with numerous previous works, by dint of the commonality of culture and the fact that nothing is created in a vacuum.
    –taking a hard-line stance on fanfic rather than attempting to navigate very tricky nuances to discern between genuine fanfic and profit-making enterprises masquerading as fanfic.
    –criminalizing what should be a civil matter.
    –deliberately ignoring the definition of Fair Use when considering potential infringement.

    To be clear, I’m not specifically accusing the Author’s Guild of doing any of these things, other than maybe overreaching on infringement–but at least one case I’m aware of that was specifically about that, I think the Author’s Guild was on the right side. But to claim that the *only* problem today is lax enforcement against piracy is ridiculously simplifying the problem. There are /so/ many problems with copyright today, and at least as many of them are about overenforcement as about underenforcement.


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