CASE Act Supporters Eye Passage By Year's End, But Some Senators Have Reservations

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Two months after it passed the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act passed the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee earlier in September — clearing it to come to a vote this year. The bill, which has bipartisan support, would create a copyright claims board within the U.S. Copyright Office that could rule on cases of copyright infringement that are too impractical to bring to federal court.

The bill would give independent creators a practical way to enforce their rights without the expense of federal copyright litigation, which costs an average of $397,000, according to the American Intellectual Property Law Association. Cases would be decided by a three-judge panel of experts, with statutory damages limited to $15,000 per work and overall damages limited to $30,000 total.

Although a copyright claims board would be significant for photographers and illustrators, who tend to own their creations, it also would give indie musicians a way to protect their art, and the bill has support from the music industry. "Federal court has been prohibitively expensive," says Barton Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International. "This is a cost-effective path that adjudicates matters and leads to discussion and a place where people can have a forum to solve their own problems."

The bill could pass without a floor vote as long as a senator who objects to it doesn’t put it on hold — and several have already voiced concerns. Other objections come from some of the "digital rights" groups that generally oppose strong copyright protections, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge. The main fear is that "copyright trolls" will exploit the bill to obtain settlements. However, the claims board has the authority to dismiss frivolous claims and ban their petitioners from filing additional claims for a year.

If the bill passes Congress, it could go to the White House, which Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid says has expressed support for the idea. "The hope," he says, "is that we can get this done by the end of the year."

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of Billboard.


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