Remedies for Copyright Small Claims
The Copyright Act protects a wide variety of works of authorship, from individual articles or photographs that may not have a high commercial value to motion pictures worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the marketplace. The copyright owners of all of these works can use U.S. copyright law to pursue certain unauthorized uses, including by filing lawsuits in federal district courts. Not all of these copyright owners, however, have the same resources to bring a federal lawsuit, which can require substantial time, money, and effort. Moreover, while a copyright owner may want to stop an infringement that has caused a relatively small amount of economic damage, that owner may be dissuaded from filing a lawsuit because the prospect of a modest recovery may not justify the potentially large expense of litigation. While the Act offers the possibility of statutory damages and attorney’s fees, these benefits are not available in all cases and parties may not recover them until after the copyright owner has engaged in a long court battle that requires payment of significant up-front costs.
Congress has asked the Copyright Office to study the challenges of the current system for resolving small copyright claim disputes, as well as possible alternative systems. Specifically, the Office is to undertake a study to: (1) assess the extent to which authors and other copyright owners are effectively prevented from seeking relief from infringements due to constraints in the current system; and (2) furnish specific recommendations, as appropriate, for changes in administrative, regulatory and statutory authority that will improve the adjudication of small copyright claims and thereby enable all copyright owners more fully to realize the promise of exclusive rights enshrined in our Constitution.
To conduct this study, the Office has undertaken a variety of activities to learn more about small copyright claims issues. The Office has published two Notices of Inquiry requesting public comments on the challenges faced by claimants under the current system as well as possible alternatives to the current legal system that might better accommodate such claims, and potential constitutional and practical issues associated with alternative systems. The Notices of Inquiry, along with the comments submitted in response, are posted on the left-hand side of this page. In November 2012, the Office held public hearings in New York City and Los Angeles to discuss the current legal landscape for small copyright claims, and to hear the participants views on potential alternatives. Panel information and hearing transcripts are posted on the left-hand side of this page.