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Copyright Small Claims Act Passes Congress

Congress finally did something!  On December 21, 2020, Congress passed the CASE Act, the Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Act of 2020.  It also passed an act on penalties for certain digital transmission services that make unauthorized uses of copyrighted works for profit.  Both laws passed as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and now go to the President for signature.

The CASE Act sets up what is expected to be a less expensive way for copyright owners to adjudicate copyright infringement cases for claims that do not exceed $30,000.  Within one year of the law’s enactment, the Copyright Office must establish the Copyright Claims Board unless that period is extended for good cause for one six-month period. As with all things government, (1) a study took place and (2) it took place over a decade.  The study entailed substantial comment periods wherein all stakeholders could state their opinions, recommendations, and arguments.  The Copyright Office also made recommendations.  Finally in 2017, a bill first was introduced in the House and then in the Senate in May 2019, and it passed yesterday.  As we should remember from School House Rock “I’m Just a Bill”, the next step is the President’s signature.  (For those of you who do not know how laws are passed, watch the video to see how that sad little scrap of paper becomes a law.) If you are looking for something to do on the Christmas break, the Copyright Office’s report is here:  Copyright Small Claims Report 

The CASE Act is voluntary, permits electronic filings and hearings, and does not require a party to have an attorney.  A claimant still must have a valid registration filed with the U.S. Copyright Office, and still must timely file within three years of the date the claim accrued.  For more details, see Ramona P. DeSalvo’s recently published Nashville Bar Journal article,  The CASE Act: Small Claims Copyright Court.

Also passed in the appropriations bill was a law that permits the Department of Justice to bring felony charges against digital transmission services offered to the public for profit that are designed, provided, or marketed for the purpose of streaming copyrighted works without authorization without any other commercially significant purpose.  The law does not target individuals, but rather companies that stream illegally or market the illegal streaming.  The summary alone seems rife with ambiguity, but it is a step in the right direction to curbing illegal sites who profit from the creativity and intellectual property of others.

This bi-partisan Christmas present to copyright owners is a little, bright spot in a year with seemingly unending bad news.  The new year 2021 can go nowhere but up from here!

Ramona P. DeSalvo