Prevent Copyright Trolling: Tell Congress that Copyright Claims Can’t Be Treated Like Traffic Tickets

The way copyright works in the United States does need changing. But the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act (CASE Act), which will treat certain copyright claims like traffic tickets, does nothing to make any useful changes. Instead, it would invite abuse, magnify the existing problem of copyright’s unpredictable damages, and would give a lot of authority to a new, quasi-judicial body in the Copyright Office, not the actual courts.

In other words, if you’re looking for an answer to the problem of people improperly using copyrighted material online, this ain’t it, chief.

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The CASE Act would allow “Claims Officers” at the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. to hear copyright infringement cases, giving this quasi-judicial body the ability to issue damages awards of up to $15,000 per work infringed or $30,000 per proceeding, and agreements which boil down to binding injunctions. And the Copyright Office could raise those caps on its own.

Photographers have a legitimate concern about their work being taken and used whole without proper payment. But copyright claims should not be bulk-processed like traffic tickets—especially not when statutory damages under the CASE Act are so much higher than in traffic court, requiring no proof of actual harm. And especially not when the case won’t be heard by an actual judge, one whose job doesn’t place copyright at the center of the legal universe.

The bill’s so-called “opt-out” mechanism doesn’t fix these problems. If the problem is that small artists need quicker, cleaner access to remedies in the face of infringement, the answer can’t be a system that sophisticated and large-scale infringers will know how to get out of, while regular people will be even easier targets for copyright trolls.

Copyright law fundamentally impacts freedom of expression. It can’t be treated with less care than a traffic ticket.