Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 21, 2014

Should There Be a System for Resolving Small Copyright Claims?

Some lawmakers appear interested in the idea of a small claims system for resolving copyright infringement disputes, or were at least asking questions about it at a House hearing Thursday.

Last year, the Copyright Office, following a congressional request, issued a report on small copyright claims that said small copyright owners face “formidable challenges” in pursuing infringement claims under the current system and proposed a voluntary system for addressing small claims within the Copyright Office that would serve as an alternative to going to federal court.

“What are your views on the Copyright Office recommendation for a small copyright claims system?” Howard Coble, R-N.C., asked witnesses at a Thursday House Judiciary Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee hearing on copyright infringement penalties.

Judy Chu, D-Calif., said she backed the idea of a small claims court and Doug Collins, R-Ga., wanted to know witnesses’ thoughts on conducting a pilot program before fully implementing such a system and limiting that test program to a narrower set of claims, like music.

“In order for such a pilot to work, it seems the proper structure and incentives would need to be in place,” Collins said. “I want you to give me your thoughts on specific elements that would need to be addressed, but first, do you think a voluntary pilot program is a good idea… good idea, bad idea…?”

In responding to Coble’s question, most witnesses supported the idea, but pointed to certain elements they thought needed to be in place.

For example, Sherwin Siy, vice president for legal affairs at Public Knowledge, backed the idea, saying litigation is expensive for both sides in a case, but added that a “careful balancing” is needed between having a more streamlined, efficient process and ensuring the rights of parties involved are protected.

Nancy E. Wolff, an attorney who represents visual artists and content licensing companies, said the proposal would benefit both defendants and plaintiffs by providing a less costly forum for resolving issues, but that there would need to be “teeth” in a voluntary system where additional damages could be awarded to plaintiffs in federal courts if they end up having to go through that system because defendants don’t participate in the alternative system.

Matt Schruers, vice president for law and policy at the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said the idea was “worthy” of consideration but said it would probably affect other parts of copyright law and that the system’s effectiveness would depend on its setup.

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