For those wanting to enforce your copyright against an infringer but have steered away from federal court because the litigation process was too complex, time-consuming, and expensive (possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars), now you have an option.
Enter the Copyright Small Claims Court.
At the end of 2020, Congress passed the “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020,” aka the “CASE Act.” CASE created the Copyright Claims Board (“CCB”), a judicial tribunal operating under the U.S. Copyright Office to decide small claims copyright infringement actions. The intent was to provide copyright owners with a more affordable and efficient way to resolve disputes involving up to $30,000 instead of using the federal court system (where maximum statutory damages are $150,000).
The CCB can hear three types of claims.
- Claims for copyright infringement.
- Claims for declarations of non-infringement
- This type of claim is for alleged infringers when a copyright owner alleges someone infringed their work, threatened to take action, or sent a DMCA takedown notice. The alleged infringer can request that the CCB issue a declaration stating that their activity does not infringe the copyright owner’s exclusive rights.
- Claims involving DMCA takedown notices
- This type of claim is for those who receive a DMCA takedown notice from a copyright owner and want to challenge it, believing that the copyright owner knowingly misrepresented the material or activity infringed in the notice.
To be eligible to file a claim with the CCB, you must:
- Be the owner of a registered copyright.
- Have suffered actual damages or are likely to suffer actual damages due to the copyright infringement.
- Be seeking damages of no more than $30,000.
If you are eligible to file a claim with the CCB, you can do so online or by mail. The CCB has a helpful guide on its website that walks you through the process. The application form requires you to provide information about your claim, including the name of the person or entity you are suing, the date of the infringement, and the amount of damages you seek. There is also an even smaller proceeding for claims of less than $5000. Those procedures are even more informal.
The CCB is a voluntary tribunal, so you are not required to use the CCB to resolve your copyright dispute. You can still file a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court. Also, a defendant accused of infringement can opt out of the CCB proceeding, allowing you to sue in federal court.
Once you have filed your claim, the CCB will assign it to a panel of three judges. CCB’s procedures are designed to be straightforward. There is no need to hire a lawyer to represent you. The first step is for the parties to exchange information about their claims and defenses, including submitting evidence. The exchange of information and documents is more limited and quicker than the discovery process in federal court. There is no formal motions practice. And the CCB provides standard forms and questions for the parties to conduct the discovery process.
The CCB will then schedule a hearing, which a single tribunal member will conduct. There is no need to be at the proceedings in-person. All hearings and conferences are conducted online or through other telecommunications facilities. At the hearing, each party will have the opportunity to present its case. The CCB will then issue a decision, which will be based on the evidence presented at the hearing and issued within 90 days. Check the website for more information on the CCB procedures.
The CCB’s decisions are final but can be appealed, although an appeal is limited to challenges for a clear error of law or fact or a technical mistake by the CCB. Also, the losing party has a limited right to appeal the decision to a federal district court if the CCB’s final determination resulted from fraud, corruption, misrepresentation, or other misconduct, or the CCB exceeded its authority or failed to render a final decision.
There are limits to how many cases someone can bring in a year — 30 cases for individuals, 80 cases for law firms, and 40 cases for attorneys.
The CCB offers several benefits over traditional litigation, including:
- Speed: The CCB is designed to resolve cases quickly. The average case is resolved within six months.
- Cost: The CCB is a more affordable option than traditional litigation. Filing fees are $100 (broken into two payments of $40 for case evaluation and $60 should the case go forward), and there are no hourly attorney fees.
- Simplicity: The CCB process is more straightforward than traditional litigation. Hiring an attorney is unnecessary, and you can represent yourself at trial.
While the CCB is still in the process of developing its procedures, it has the potential to be a valuable resource for copyright owners who are looking for an affordable and efficient way to resolve copyright disputes. If you are considering using the CCB to resolve a copyright dispute but are unsure it is the right forum, consult an attorney to discuss your options.
Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. Consult a qualified lawyer in your jurisdiction for all legal opinions for your specific situation.