WestLord & Associates

Copyright Small Claims and the Copyright Claims Board

In December 2020, the United States Congress enacted the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020 (CASE Act), a groundbreaking legislation that led to the establishment of the Copyright Claims Board (CCB) within the U.S. Copyright Office.

The CCB serves as a specialized tribunal aimed at providing an accessible and efficient avenue for resolving specific copyright disputes referred to as “small claims.” These small claims typically involve disputes with values of up to $30,000. Let’s delve into the Copyright Claims Board and its functions with more extended details:

Purpose of the CCB: The Copyright Claims Board (CCB) was created with a singular mission: to offer creators, artists, authors, and copyright owners an effective and affordable means to protect their intellectual property rights in situations where the value of the claim is relatively modest. The primary objective is to provide a voluntary, cost-effective, and streamlined alternative to the federal court system for resolving copyright disputes in the small claims range.

One of the primary goals of the CCB is to make copyright dispute resolution financially accessible to a broader range of individuals and entities, including individual creators, small businesses, and independent artists. The traditional federal court system can be prohibitively expensive for many, with high filing fees, legal costs, and potential travel expenses. The CCB addresses these financial barriers by offering a streamlined, cost-effective alternative.

Parties in CCB proceedings are encouraged to represent themselves, known as appearing “pro se.” This approach eliminates the need to hire attorneys, saving parties substantial legal fees. Additionally, the CCB’s straightforward process and virtual hearings minimize the associated costs, as there are no travel expenses or complex legal procedures involved.

The CCB is designed to expedite the resolution of small copyright claims efficiently. By providing a dedicated forum for these disputes, the CCB streamlines the process, allowing parties to navigate copyright issues more quickly and with fewer procedural complexities. All CCB hearings are conducted virtually, eliminating the need for physical appearances in court. This not only reduces travel expenses but also offers greater convenience and accessibility to parties located across the country. Virtual hearings are a key component of the CCB’s efficient approach to dispute resolution.

Advantages of CCB:

  • Cost-Effective: The CCB significantly reduces the financial burden on parties involved in copyright disputes. The total fee for initiating a CCB case is $100, a fraction of the cost associated with filing a case in federal court. This fee is divided into two manageable payments: an initial payment of $40 and a subsequent payment of $60.
  • Virtual Proceedings: A noteworthy advantage of the CCB is that all hearings are conducted virtually. This eliminates the need for parties to bear the expenses related to physical travel, making it a more convenient and cost-efficient option.
  • Simplified Process: The CCB process is intentionally designed to be user-friendly and comprehensible to individuals without legal backgrounds. Parties are encouraged to represent themselves (appearing “pro se”) if they choose to do so, thereby avoiding the expenses typically associated with hiring an attorney.
  • Deterring Bad Faith Conduct: To maintain fairness and integrity, the CCB has the authority to penalize parties that engage in bad faith conduct. If a party is found to have acted in bad faith, they may be required to cover the legal costs and attorney’s fees of the innocent party. This provision encourages parties to act in good faith during the dispute resolution process.

Claim Certification and Service:

  • Certification by CCB Attorney: Before a claim can proceed, it must undergo certification by a Copyright Claims Board attorney. This step ensures that the claim is valid and complies with CCB requirements, confirming its status as a permissible claim.
  • Notice of Compliance and Direction to Serve: Once a claim has been certified, the CCB issues a crucial document known as the “Notice of Compliance and Direction to Serve.” This document signifies that the claim has met the necessary criteria and is ready to be served on the respondent. The notice also provides detailed instructions to the claimant regarding how to serve the respondent.
  • Service Timeframe: A key aspect of the CCB process is the strict adherence to deadlines. Upon issuance of the Notice of Compliance and Direction to Serve, the claimant is allotted 90 days to serve the respondent with the claim. Failure to adhere to this timeframe can jeopardize the case.
  • Uploading Proof of Service: After serving the respondent, the claimant must promptly upload proof of service to the electronic Copyright Claims Board (eCCB) platform. This step is crucial for documenting that the respondent has been properly served.

Types of Awards:

  • Monetary Damages: One of the primary functions of the Copyright Claims Board is to assess and award monetary damages. These damages may include statutory damages in cases of copyright infringement. Importantly, the CCB is not limited to awarding damages; parties can bring cases even if they are not seeking monetary compensation.
  • Injunction-like Orders: While the CCB lacks the authority to issue formal injunctions, it can include orders in its final determinations that resemble injunctions. These orders may require parties to cease the infringing activity. The CCB can consider such agreements when calculating monetary damages.

Limitations on Award Amounts:

  • Maximum Award: The CCB is subject to a statutory cap, and it cannot award more than $30,000 in any single proceeding. This limit applies whether the award is for actual damages, statutory damages, or any combination thereof. This cap ensures that the CCB remains focused on resolving small claims.
  • Actual vs. Statutory Damages: When a party seeks actual damages, there is no per-work limit on the damage award, provided it does not exceed the overall $30,000 limit for the proceeding. This means that the CCB can potentially award up to $30,000 in actual damages, whether for a single work or multiple works involved in a single case.

The Copyright Claims Board (CCB) represents a significant development in the realm of copyright protection. By offering an accessible, cost-effective, and efficient means of resolving small copyright claims, the CCB seeks to empower creators and copyright owners while promoting the safeguarding of intellectual property rights. This approach ensures that even smaller claims can be addressed swiftly and fairly, fostering creativity and innovation within the creative community.