Copyright Law Updates | New Federal Register Notices
October 28, 2011
Copyright Office Initiates Study and Seeks Comments on Small Copyright Claims
Remedies for Small Copyright Claims
Docket No. 2011–10, 10/27/2011
The U.S. Copyright Office is undertaking a study at the request of Congress to assess whether and, if so, how the current legal system hinders or prevents copyright owners from pursuing copyright infringement claims that have a relatively small economic value (‘‘small copyright claims’’); and recommend potential changes in administrative, regulatory, and statutory authority to improve the adjudication of these small copyright claims.
The Office thus seeks comment on how copyright owners have handled small copyright claims and the obstacles they have encountered, as well as potential alternatives to the current legal system that could better accommodate such claims. This is a general inquiry and the Office will publish additional notices on this topic.
The Copyright Act (the ‘‘Act’’), 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., protects a wide variety of works of authorship, ranging 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. Copyright owners of all of these works may seek remedies under the federal Copyright Act in the event of infringement.
Not all of these copyright owners, however, have the same resources to bring a federal lawsuit, which can require substantial time, money, and effort. To the extent an infringement results in a relatively small amount of economic damage, the copyright owner may be dissuaded from filing a lawsuit because the potential award may not justify the expense of litigation.
Even where statutory damages and attorney fees are possible, they are not available until the conclusion of the litigation. Moreover, awards of statutory damages may be as low as $750 (or, in cases of innocent infringement, $200), and may not always make the copyright owner whole.
The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has recently asked the U.S. Copyright Office to study the obstacles facing small copyright claims disputes, as well as possible alternatives.
In a letter dated October 11, 2011, Chairman Lamar Smith requested that the Office ‘‘undertake a study to assess: (1) 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 to more fully realize the promise of exclusive rights enshrined in our Constitution.’’
The Office therefore seeks comments on how parties—both copyright owners and those alleged to have infringed— view the current system, what their experiences with the current system have been, and what types of alternatives would be helpful and viable.
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