Why US creators urgently need Congress to support the CASE Act
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Virtually everyone who relies on copyright to earn a living, but who can’t afford to bring a copyright claim via federal court, feels neglected by our existing copyright system, which – unfortunately – does not provide an effective means for enforcing creator rights.

Because federal courts currently have exclusive jurisdiction over copyright claims – a system that is both costly and complex – most creators and small businesses have no means whatsoever to enforce their rights. As a result, infringements regularly go unchallenged and creators are often disenfranchised by the copyright system.

Visual artists, authors and songwriters—who operate small businesses—are hurt most by the high cost of federal litigation because the individual value of their work is often too low to warrant the expense of federal litigation. And while their financial losses may seem modest, very often they represent a significant and devastating loss of income, especially since many creators experience multiple infringements over the course of a week, a month, a year, a lifetime. Their losses could have covered family living expenses, personal and business bills, medical insurance premiums, car payments and much more.

But there is hope, especially since hundreds of thousands of creators are vocalizing their support for a bipartisan bill called the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2017 (the CASE Act), H.R. 3945. Introduced by Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Tom Marino (R-Pa.), this bill addresses these challenges by proposing a streamlined process for “small copyright claims” to be heard by a three-judge board within the U.S. Copyright Office.

The CASE Act has quickly become a legislative priority for an unprecedented number of photographers, illustrators, graphic artists, songwriters, authors, as well as a new generation of bloggers and YouTubers. To put it simply, the CASE Act will enable creators to enforce a small business-scale claim without the burden of hiring an attorney or filing in federal court (or even traveling away from home). In the world of “working creators,” a Small Claims system would provide a very viable and cost-effective option for, say, an independent graphic designer or photographer who may live more than 100 miles from the nearest federal courthouse, and whose work may be infringed online by a party who is located across the country. 

It’s worth noting that passage of the CASE Act would not mean that there will be an increase in copyright litigation. In fact, because individual creators and small businesses would be on a more level playing field with infringers, we anticipate less infringement and more settlements.

Today, with so much at stake, Congress has the opportunity to help working creators recover lost opportunities and lost earnings by passing The CASE Act (H.R. 3945), legislation that could have a broadly restorative effect on some of the underlying causes of damage to creators’ rights overall. Please join us as we urge congressional representatives to mark up this bill via the House Judiciary Committee, and send it along to the full House, as soon as possible. By taking swift action, Congress will assist creators in protecting their copyrighted works and help restore everyone’s faith by fixing a system that’s been broken for far too long.

Gabrielle Carteris is president of Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA.)