Copyright Office Recommends Creation of Voluntary System of Adjudication Focused on Small Infringement Cases

As requested by the House Judiciary Committee in October 2011, the Copyright Office on September 30, 2013 delivered a report on the difficulties in resolving small copyright claims in the current legal system.  The report recommends the creation of a voluntary system of adjudication within the Copyright Office, focused on small copyright infringement cases.

Increased digitization has exacerbated the problem of copyright infringement, as it has become increasingly easy to produce unauthorized copies of works at negligible costs.  The expense and duration of pursuing copyright claims in federal court, however, makes pursuing such claims impracticable for many, especially with regards to smaller infringement claims.  The difficulties associated with infringement claims in federal court also apply to those defending such claims, who may be unable to bear the financial burdens of federal litigation.  With these challenges in mind, the Copyright Office made its recommendation for an alternative to federal litigation for small copyright claims.

The proposed tribunal would focus on small claims cases valued at no more than $30,000 in damages.  To bring an action before the tribunal, copyright owners must have registered their works or filed an application before bringing the action.  The tribunal would be staffed by three adjudicators, two with copyright experience, and one with a background in alternative dispute resolution.  Being a voluntary alternative, responding parties would have to agree to the process as well, via affirmative written consent or an opt-out mechanism.  The process would be streamlined with limited discovery, and proceedings administered through online and teleconferencing facilities not requiring personal appearances.  The tribunal’s determinations would have binding effect only on the parties and claims at issue, having no precedential effect.  If necessary to ensure enforceability, such determinations could be filed in federal court.

Now that the Copyright Office has concluded its two-year study and made its recommendations to the House Judiciary Committee, it remains to be seen whether they will be implemented.  A full copy of the Copyright Office’s report can be found here: http://www.copyright.gov/docs/smallclaims/usco-smallcopyrightclaims.pdf