Copyright Small Claims: How the CASE Act Works | Creative Law Center

Copyright Small Claims: How the CASE Act Works

What is the CASE Act?

The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020, or CASE Act, was signed into law on December 27, 2020. It is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, also known as the COVID-19 Relief/Stimulus Package.

The CASE Act creates a Copyright Claims Board under the auspices of the Copyright Office and provides an alternative, straight-forward, cost-effective system for copyright holders—small businesses, creative professionals, and entrepreneurs—to seek relief for the type of copyright infringements that have become all too common today.

The CASE Act is designed to avoid costly copyright litigation, finally giving creators with small infringement claims an accessible remedy to enforce what has otherwise been an elusive right. For for more detail on the history of the legislation, you may be interested in Copyright Small Claims: An Idea Whose Time Has Come.

How Laws Begin to Work

Legislation or a statute, once enacted, starts working in pieces. First, there's the language of the law itself. Then there are the rules the Copyright Office will make to fill in some of the technical details not otherwise covered by the statute. The custom and practice of the Copyright Claims Board itself and the folks who use it make up the third piece of the legal puzzle.

The pieces operate together to establish an alternative forum for resolving copyright disputes. Statutory language, rules, and custom combine to form and function as the law.

This post examines how the legislative piece of the CASE Act is designed, providing a breakdown of what is in the statute. We'll take it in bite sized pieces adding more explanation over the course of the next few weeks or so until all sections of the Act are covered.

A different post will look at the rules once the Copyright Office issues them. When the Board finally begins to take and resolve claims, I expect a series of posts will follow analyzing the outcomes. Once all three pieces are in place and operating—the statute, the rules, and the practice—we'll have a chance to see if the solution is working.

Here's a copy of the statute: The Case Act—62 pages extracted from the more than 5,000 pages of the Consolidated Act. The table of contents of the full Consolidated Act comprises the first six pages of this extract, just to put the CASE Act in context.

Where Does the CASE Act Fit in the Overall Scheme of Copyright Law?

U.S. Copyright Law lives at 17 U.S.C. (United States Code) §101. The law is broken up into chapters. The CASE Act has become Chapter 15, 17 U.S.C §§1501 to 1511, coming soon to online databases near you.

When Will the Copyright Claims Board Be Up and Running?

The Copyright Office has one year, or until December 26, 2021, to get the Copyright Claims Board underway. This involves hiring the Claims Officers, attorneys for the Board, and administrative staff; finding physical space; establishing a fee schedule; designing and implementing an online portal for claims filing and management; and setting up a virtual claims hearing system.

If for some good reason the Copyright Office can't pull it off in a year, it can ask Congress for a six month extension.

For those creatives whose work is being infringed on a regular basis and are ready to enforce their rights now, this time frame seems like another eternity. For others, the next year gives them a fair amount of time to get ready to take advantage of what this new law has to offer.

You need Copyright Registrations on Your Creative Work.

In order to obtain a decision from the Copyright Claims Board that enforces your rights, you need a copyright registration on the creative work you claim has been infringed. You can bring a claim after filing an application, but without the registration, you won't get a decision from the Board. 

This approach is slightly more generous than the process for filing a complaint in federal court. The Supreme Court has decided that a registration is needed and that an application is insufficient.

The application/registration requirement for filing a claim is in 17 U.S.C. §1505.

Having copyright registrations on your creative work is a best practice for small business, creative professionals, and entrepreneurs. If you haven't yet, now is the time to file applications on your portfolio. 

The rule of thumb for deciding when to protect your creative work is to apply for registrations on:

  • creative work you intend to sell
  • creative work you have already sold
  • creative work that has been infringed 

With copyright registrations in hand, you will be ready to enforce your rights before the Copyright Claims Board.

Up Next

Next week, we'll take a look at the types of claims you can bring and the damages that be awarded.

Let me know in the comments which aspects of the CASE Act you'd like to hear about first.

About the Author

Kathryn Goldman helps small business, creative professionals, and make a living from their creative work by teaching them how to protect and enforce their rights. She is an attorney who writes these posts to help you be more thoughtful about intellectual property and the law as you build your business, write your stories, and create your art.

  • faeryangela@gmail.com says:

    Thank you!
    It’s all the unanswered questions I’m so curious about, like how much will it cost, will there be some kind of public record of claims filed, and what happens if the infringer we want to file a claim against is posting the stolen content on a social media platform and has no contact info.
    You probably don’t have the answers yet either. I sure hope it’s not a whole year before this is ready to take advantage of.

  • Thanks for this informative update. I look forward to the follow-up posts.

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