We are at a critical juncture in the world of copyright claims. The “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act”—the CASE Act—is apparently being considered for inclusion in next week’s spending bill. That is “must pass” legislation—in other words, legislation that is vital to the function of the government and so anything attached to it, related to spending or not, has a good chance of becoming law. The CASE Act could mean Internet users facing $30,000 penalties for sharing a meme or making a video. It has no place in must pass legislation.
The CASE Act purports to be a simple fix to the complicated problem of online copyright infringement. In reality, it creates an obscure, labyrinthine system that will be easy for the big players to find the way out of. The new “Copyright Claims Board” in the Copyright Office would be empowered to levy large penalties against anyone accused of copyright infringement. The only way out would be to respond to the Copyright Office—in a very specific manner, within a limited time period. Regular Internet users, those who can’t afford the $30,000 this “small claims” board can force you to pay, will be the ones most likely to get lost in the shuffle.
The CASE Act doesn’t create a small-claims court, which might a least have some hard-fought for protections for free expression built in. Instead, claims under the CASE Act would be heard by neither judges or juries, just “claims officers.” And CASE limits appeals, so you may be stuck with whatever penalty the “claims board” decides you owe.
Previous versions of the CASE Act all failed. This version is not an improvement, and Congress has not heard enough from those of us who would be most affected by CASE: regular, everyday Internet users who could end up owing thousands of dollars. Large, well-resourced players will not be affected, as they will have the resources to track notices and simply opt out.
How do we know that the effect of this bill on people who do not have those resources has not been understood? For one thing, Representative Doug Collins of Georgia said in an open hearing any claim with a $30,000 cap on damages was “truly small.” Of course, for many many people – often the same people who don’t have lawyers to help them opt-out in time – paying those damages would be ruinous.
That’s why we’re asking you to take some time today to call and tell your representatives how dangerous this bill really is and that has no place being snuck through via a completely unrelated “must pass” spending bill.
Tell Congress that a bill like this has no place being added to any spending bill. That it must rise or fall on its own merits and that there are people who will be harmed and who are speaking out against this bill.
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