The House Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would create a small-claims tribunal in the Copyright Office for infringement disputes too small to justify a federal lawsuit.
The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act (H.R. 2429), approved Sept. 10, would establish the Copyright Claims Board to carry out remote, streamlined procedures in which parties could represent themselves. Damages would be capped at $15,000 per work and $30,000 per case. Accused infringers would have to actively opt out of the process to retain their right to go to federal court.
The measure now heads toward the full House, but timing for floor action is unclear. The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced its own version (S. 1273) in July.
The Recording Academy, whose members vote for the Grammy awards, applauded the move.
“Music creators are one step closer to having a simpler and more cost-effective way to defend their original works against infringement,” Daryl Friedman, the academy’s chief industry, government and member relations officer, said in a statement. “I urge both chambers to pass this legislation to eliminate the unfair advantage against creators that currently exists in copyright law and protect the viability of the music industry.”
Photographers also support the bill, saying it would allow them to enforce their rights at an affordable cost in an era of widespread infringement. They say federal court costs outstrip any potential award for most copyright claims, rendering the copyrights on which they depend all but worthless.
“The establishment of the Copyright Claims Board is critical for the creative middle class who deserve to benefit from the fruits of their labor,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D.-N.Y.), who introduced the bill, said in a statement. The bill has 92 co-sponsors in the House.
But technology and public interest groups argue that the potential awards are still too high for a small claims court. They also say forcing defendants who fail to opt out to pay five-figure awards that are nearly impossible to appeal would invite abuse.
Electronic Frontier Foundation manager of policy and activism Katherine Trendacosta, in a statement, called the bill “unconstitutional” for denying a jury trial to defendants that don’t explicitly refuse to participate the administrative proceeding.
Public Knowledge policy counsel Meredith Rose said the tribunal could “literally bankrupt individuals—while letting corporations and sophisticated mass infringers off the hook entirely.”
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(Updated with additional reporting)