House Bill Introduced for Copyright Small Claims

Photographers in the United States are now one step closer toward seeing a copyright small claims system for pursuing infringements on a smaller scale. A new bipartisan House bill has introduced the CASE Act, which stands for the “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2017.”

Photographer associations have long pushed for the creation of a copyright small claims system in the US. The argument is that the current system is more geared toward low-volume, high-value content creators (e.g. filmmakers, music artists, authors) rather than high-volume, lower-value creators (e.g. photographers).

“It may surprise you to learn that the majority of copyright holders in the United States are mom-and-pop businesses, the majority of which are professional photographers,” the PPA stated last year. “Our current one-size-fits-all copyright system leaves out most visual artists.”

The problem is that the vast majority of copyright infringements experienced by photographers are valued at $3,000 or less, and the majority of intellectual property lawyers wouldn’t take on an infringement case with a potential payout of less than $30,000.

HR 3945 was introduced by Congressional representatives yesterday to address this issue. It was sponsored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), and co-sponsored by representatives Doug Collins (R-GA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), and Ted Lieu (D-CA).

The bill aims to create a small claims court within the US Copyright Office, allowing photographers and other copyright holders to present a claim before claim officers. The damages awarded through this system would be limited to $30,000.

If you’re seeking damages of more than that figure, then you’d go with the existing copyright infringement claim route through a US federal court, which can be a long and costly process.

“Many independent photographers opt not to pursue infringements because of the high cost of federal court, leaving those photographers without a remedy,” writes the NPPA. “The copyright small claims process is designed to be simplified and limit or eliminate the need for expensive legal fees.”

“The establishment of the Copyright Claims Board is critical for the creative middle class who deserve to benefit from the fruits of their labor,” says Jeffries. “Copyright enforcement is essential to ensure that these artists, writers, musicians and other creators are able to commercialize their creative work in order to earn a livelihood.”

You can read the full text of the bill for yoruself here:

The bill is being supported by a coalition of photography and visual artist groups, including the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), the American Photographic Artists (APA), American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), and Professional Photographers of America (PPA).

“We are thrilled on behalf of all visual artists to see our many years of work towards establishing a small copyrights tribunal finally take this first step,” says NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher.

If you’d like to contribute toward getting this bill passed, you can contact your representative and ask them to co-sponsor the bill.