US Congress seeks small claims track for copyright claims

Lawyers won't like this

The US Congress has published plans backed by both main US parties to reform the Copyright Office - and it wants your views. Amongst the proposals is a small claims track to make fighting The Man easier.

Technology has allowed millions more people to share their craft, but most independent creators can ill afford lawyers. The giant internet platforms have amassed their wealth largely through ensuring people don’t assert their property rights. So cheaper access to justice is a long overdue reform that should keep everyone happy. The House’s Judiciary Committee recommends that the Office should:

“Host a small claims system consistent with the report on the issue released by the Copyright Office. The small claims system should handle low value infringement cases as well as bad faith Section 512 notices. The Register [that’s the Copyright Register, not us] should be given the authority to promulgate regulations to ensure that the system works efficiently.”

Better tools for identifying material would remove much if not all of the problem of bogus 512 DMCA notifications – but The Circle Google maintains this would break the internets. The House notes that a database of ownership information and metadata are practical ideas the would help.

It's worth noting copyright is “automatic” under the Berne Convention, meaning you don’t need to register every photo you take to receive protection. Registering a work in the US does entitle you to statutory damages. In its recent Maoist phase, the UK’s equivalent toyed with the idea of making registration compulsory to receive protection – before it was explained that this made the UK a rogue state under Berne.

The House also wants the copyright administrator to beef up its economic know how, by hiring a chief economist, and have its own independent IT functionality. This is prudent, given the conflicts of interest that might arise from outsourcing IT at America’s copyright agency to a cloud company that exploits loopholes in copyright law.

The Copyright Alliance is one of many groups who have called for the Register of Copyright to become an independent agency, moving away from its precarious position under the Librarian of Congress. Two recent Registers of Copyright backed the move, as it removed potential conflicts of interest. Libraries are users, rather than creators. Ralph Oman, the Register from 1985 to 1993, and Marybeth Peters, the Register from 1994 to 2010, both called for the Librarian to let go of the Copyright.

And so too did the most recent Register of Copyright, until she was locked out of her office by the new Librarian of Congress, an Obama appointee, without notice.

Which, you could say, very much demonstrates the point.

Here’s the release, and the one page version. ®

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