Thursday, May 16, 2019

Small Claims Copyright Court

I just read that  the proposal for a Small Claims Court for copyright violations is gaining traction.  This is a bi‑partisan effort to create an entity called the Copyrights Enforcement Board which would allow a "fast track Small Claims Court for copyright owners seeking damages of up to $30,000.00" according to Digital News.

I was initially skeptical of this idea but now I think it has merit.  Not all copyright infringement cases exist on the same level as the "Blurred Lines" case.  For example, some of the copyright infringement cases I have handled include:

            1.         A photographer for who found his work done for a nonprofit agency used to advertise a radio station.

            2.         Another photographer who saw her self portrait used on a billboard.

            3.         A publisher of legal forms whose work was copied and sold by a small-time competitor.

            4.         On the defense side,  I once represented a record company owner who was sued by a music publisher for copyright infringement based on a song found on a long deleted album.  The plaintiff could only prove that onecopy of the album was available for sale and so he was awarded damages for that one copy.

Each of these cases (except for perhaps the last one) were very real and very important to the litigants but none of them could justify the cost of Federal Court litigation and really couldn't be properly handled without cutting corners, fees, etc.  It would be really useful if content creators had a lower cost way to protect their intellectual property.

I don't know all the details of the proposed Small Claims Court.  Participation is said to be voluntary – meaning that a defendant could opt out of this system and use the traditional Federal Court system.  I also don't know how the appeals process would work – would an appellant follow the usual Rules of Appellate Procedure or would one obtain a trial de novo as is the case in our Tennessee State Courts? There is additional criticism of the proposal in that it might further encourage copyright trolls. Would such a system encourage more frivolous lawsuits?

Either way I think this is an interesting idea which should be thoroughly explored

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