A friend of mine has a professional, working rock band (and he is not only lead guitarist but principal composer of the group’s original music). They are not headliners, but they’ve opened for some nationally known acts, and they have four or five albums out there of their original music. Recently, my friend learned that some people in another state wanted to use his music in a TV ad, but they didn’t want to pay him beyond a nominal rate. After breaking off discussion of these terms, they went ahead and used it anyway.
Can he sue them for copyright infringement? Sure – but at what cost, especially if it’s in another state? We’re not talking millions of dollars in missing royalties here. At most, a mortgage payment or two. Should he bother? Would it be worth it?
As it turns out, these sorts of low-profile copyright cases are quite common.
Introducing the CASE Act
Back in July 2017, US Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-8), with several co-sponsors, introduced a bipartisan bill, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act. In October, the bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on the Courts, and IP, Intellectual Property and the Internet of the House Judiciary Committee under Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6).
From my perspective, it’s a interesting piece of proposed legislation that would make a meaningful change. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) summary for it outlines the main proposal: a “small claims board” would be established, with authorization to “(1) conduct hearings and conferences to facilitate parties’ settlement of claims [of copyright infringement] and counterclaims; (2) render independent determinations based on copyright laws and regulations; (3) award monetary relief; and (4) require cessation or mitigation of infringing activity, including the takedown or destruction of infringing materials, where the parties agree.” The bill also provides that the case can be conducted mostly online.
What does this have to do with my friend and his music, and that infringement case? It’s probably not a surprise to learn that copyright litigation can be very expensive – one estimate from the American Intellectual Property Law Association suggests that the average cost of a case in recent years, including appeals, runs over $278,000. The CASE Act would make it a lot simpler, and a lot less costly, to get a relatively small case expedited, heard, and resolved in short order. Think of it as – almost – Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) for copyright matters.
Although very little in the way of copyright legislation has made it through Congress to the President’s desk in the past five years, if the stars align properly, this bill just might. Several organizations have indicated their support for this bill, including the Songwriters Guild of America and the National Music Publishers Association.
Keep your fingers crossed. If it passes, maybe I can score you some tickets to my friend’s next show. (Just kidding.)
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