A major piece of copyright legislation, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act (CASE Act), was tucked into the omnibus spending and COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress on December 21, 2020.
The CASE Act creates the Copyright Claims Board, which will allow copyright holders to file claims of infringement or DMCA violations in a small-claims tribunal at the Copyright Office. Those claims will be decided by a three-person panel, including two lawyers knowledgeable in copyright law. The tribunal will resolve copyright claims with a maximum recovery of $15,000 in statutory damages or $30,000 in actual damages for registered works. (In a departure from district court requirements, copyright owners are eligible to pursue claims in the Copyright Claims Board for unregistered works and to obtain statutory damages up to $7,500 per work infringed, or a total of $15,000, for works that have not timely been registered under 17 U.S.C. § 412.)
Participation in the Copyright Claims Board is considered to be “voluntary” insofar as any party can opt out of the tribunal within 60 days from the date of service. If an opt-out occurs, the claimant (plaintiff) would be able to pursue a copyright infringement case in federal court, as normally done. Discovery in CASE Act proceedings is limited to written document requests, interrogatories, and requests for admission. No depositions are permitted, and there’s no formal motion practice in CASE Act proceedings. Determinations by the Copyright Claims Board have a preclusive effect on district court litigations and are not appealable to a higher court, though limited judicial review is available on the basis of fraud, corruption, misrepresentation, or other misconduct. Default judgments may be reviewed by a district court, which has the power to vacate them upon a showing of excusable neglect.
Copyright owners should consider whether CASE Act proceedings, once implemented, offer a preferred means of pursuing lower-value infringement claims.