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U.S. House Passes Copyright “Small Claims” Bill with Overwhelming Majority



The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the CASE Act, a new bill that proposes to institute a small claims court for copyright disputes. Supporters see the legislation as the ideal tool for smaller creators to protect their works, but opponents warn that it will increase the number of damages claims against regular Internet users. The new bill, which passed with a clear 410-6 vote, will now progress to the Senate.

In May, new legislation was tabled in the U.S. House and Senate that introduces the creation of a “small claims” process for copyright disputes.

The CASE Act, short for “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement,” proposes to establish a copyright claim tribunal within the United States Copyright Office.

If adopted, the new board will provide an option to resolve copyright disputes outside the federal courts, which significantly reduces the associated costs. As such, it aims to make it easier for smaller creators, such as photographers, to address copyright infringements.

The bill is widely supported by copyright-heavy industry groups as well as many individual creators. However, as is often the case with new copyright legislation, there’s also plenty of opposition from digital rights groups and Internet users who fear that the bill will do more harm than good.

Supporters of the CASE Act point out that the new bill is the ‘missing piece’ in the present copyright enforcement toolbox. They believe that many creators are not taking action against copyright infringers at the moment, because filing federal lawsuits is too expensive. The new small claims tribunal will fix that, they claim.

Opponents, for their part, fear that the new tribunal will trigger an avalanche of claims against ordinary Internet users, with potential damages of up to $30,000 per case. While targeted people have the choice to opt-out, many simply have no clue what to do, they argue.

Thus far legislators have shown massive support for the new plan. Yesterday the bill was up for a vote at the U.S. House of Representatives where it was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. With a 410-6 vote, the passage of the CASE Act went smoothly.

The news was welcomed by proponents of the bill, including the Recording Academy. In recent weeks the group actively rallied support from nearly 2,000 creators, who helped to lobby legislators.

The Copyright Alliance was equally delighted with the favorable vote. CEO Keith Kupferschmid notes that it further attests to the tremendous support the bill has gained so far. At the same time, it shows that legislators were not swayed by the CASE Act’s opponents.

“Today’s vote by the House demonstrates not only the tremendous support for the bill but also the fact that members of Congress could not be bamboozled into believing the numerous falsehoods about the CASE Act,” Kupferschmid comments.

According to the Copyright Alliance CEO, these alleged falsehoods are shared by people who “philosophically oppose any copyright legislation that will help the creative community and who will use any means to achieve their illicit goals.”

These comments illustrate that the tensions between supporters and opponents of the CASE Act are high. In recent months, both sides have accused each other of misrepresenting the bill.

Meredith Rose, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge, is in the opposing camp. She’s not happy with the vote at all and hopes that the Senate will slam on the brakes to prevent it from progressing in its current form.

“The CASE Act was rammed through on suspension with no hearings, no opportunity for amendment, and no opportunity for meaningful comment from public interest and consumer groups. We urge the Senate not to take up this bill as written, but to instead open the dialogue to all affected parties to craft meaningful, functional solutions,” Rose says.

Public Knowledge and other groups, such as EFF and Re:Create, fear that the bill will lead to more copyright complaints against regular Internet users. Re:Create’s Executive Director Joshua Lamel hopes that the Senate will properly address these concerns.

“The CASE Act will expose ordinary Americans to tens of thousands of dollars in damages for things most of us do everyday. We are extremely disappointed that Congress passed the CASE Act as currently written, and we hope that the Senate will do its due diligence to make much-needed amendments to this bill to protect American consumers and remove any constitutional concerns,” Lamel notes.

The 410-6 House vote shows that, thus far, there is not much interest from lawmakers to change the proposal. However, with several weeks of lobbying ahead from both supporters and opponents of the CASE Act, the battle is not over yet.


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