The legal landscape is already strongly tilted in favour of copyright holders. But that doesn’t stop the copyright maximalists from demanding more ways to enforce their intellectual monopolies. The latest expansion of enforcement powers is doubly concerning. First, because its explicit purpose is to make it even easier to bring cases against alleged copyright infringement. And secondly, because so few people know about it yet.
This latest expansion is the result of a new US law, called the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act. A post on the Educause Review site explains that CASE creates something called the Copyright Claims Board (CCB), with greatly simplified procedures for bringing legal actions. For example, they do not need to be filed in a federal court, which is typically very expensive. Legal representation is not required, and filing fees start at just $100. In addition, statutory damages would be available for an infringement even if it occurred before registration with the US Copyright Office.
Those may be useful features for independent artists who lack legal teams but wish to pursue their claims of copyright infringement. But they will be an even greater boon to copyright trolls, who will be able to fire off illegitimate claims for very little upfront cost. Faced with what look like serious legal threats, many people will choose to pay off the trolls, rather than face the prospect of navigating a new legal system they have probably never heard of. The Educause Review points out that the scope of the new law is extremely wide, and that non-profit academic activities will also be at risk:
This lowered bar to bring claims before the CCB means that nearly any photograph, social media post, or quote put online could find itself targeted by a CCB lawsuit. The changed requirements for claims put a wide swath of open digital scholarship, teaching, learning, and digitized collections at risk to CCB claims with questionable merit
Students are likely to be affected more than most in the academic context, for the following reason:
Federal and state government entities are not subject to CCB claims. Also, the CASE Act allows public and private libraries and archives and their employees to preemptively opt out of CCB proceedings. Other users of copyright-protected works, including students, are vulnerable to CCB claims.
It is easy to imagine a young and unworldly student receiving a CCB claim and panicking at the thought of legal action against them that might ruin their career before it has started. Many will leap at the chance to “resolve” whatever the claimed problem might be – whether real or feigned – with a quick financial settlement. These easy pickings will encourage even more copyright trolls to swoop on these hapless victims.
During its passage through the US legislative system, the new CCB was doubtless presented by its supporters as a vital way to allow struggling creators to defend their rights from those illegally exploiting their work. Instead, this latest extension of copyright’s legal powers is likely to become yet another weapon that can be wielded against innocent members of the public because of a misguided belief in the sanctity of copyright.
Image created using Stable Diffusion.