COVID-19 Stimulus Bill also Includes Little-known Provision Creating New Streamlined Tribunal for Copyright Infringement Claims

Nearly unnoticed in the wrangling over the amount of COVID relief payments, the stimulus bill signed into law on December 27, 2020 also included several interesting intellectual property provisions.  Buried thousands of pages into the bill, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019 (the “CASE Act”) establishes a small claims court-type system under the U.S. Copyright Office for copyright holders to pursue low-value claims of copyright violations.

As it stands now, copyright infringement litigation is time-consuming and expensive, especially for small copyright holders.  Copyright infringement is rife on social media, leaving content creators with few options short of hiring a lawyer, sending cease-and-desist letters, and filing lawsuits.  The attorney’s fees for such litigation can easily exceed the recovery for copyright infringement, leaving the content creator at a serious disadvantage.

The CASE Act seeks to address this sort of low-level infringement by setting up a Copyright Claims Board as a mediator to handle small cases of copyright infringement.  For registered copyrighted works, the maximum claim would be $15,000 per work and $30,000 per claim, and unregistered copyrighted works are eligible for half that amount.  The Copyright Claims Board can also issue notices to cease infringement.

This should significantly reduce the time and expense of pursuing legitimate low-value copyright infringement claim.  On the other hand, it may also make it easier for so-called “copyright trolls” to pursue numerous baseless claims for low dollar amounts.  Unsophisticated parties may not realize that they can opt-out of the streamlined process, and may not assert defenses like fair use.

Copyright holders and legal commentators will be watching closely to see how the CASE Act works in practice.  It may provide a real tool in the fight against infringement, or may be a nuisance that serves only to chill speech and run up legal fees.  Content creators struggling for credit for their work certainly deserve to have their intellectual property protected, and hope that the CASE Act will live up to their expectations.