US Introduces Copyright Small Claims Court

The United States Copyright Office has introduced a "small claims court" for resolving copyright claims that will operate as the Copyright Claims Board (the "CCB"). An alternative to asserting claims in a US federal court, the three-member expert tribunal is designed to be less expensive, faster and user-friendly for claims less than $30,000 US.

Critically, both parties must agree to participate in a CCB proceeding. If it objects, a respondent can opt out of a CCB proceeding and require the claim to be pursued in a US federal court. However, if a respondent does not opt out of a CCB proceeding (or stops participating), the tribunal may enter a default judgment against that party.

Only three types of claims can be brought:

  1. claims of infringement of a copyright;
  2. claims seeking declarations that specific activities do not infringe copyright; and
  3. claims of “misrepresentation” in notices sent under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

From a procedural perspective,

  • the claimant must either (1) have a registration from the Copyright Office for the work(s) at issue or (2) have submitted an application to register the work(s) either before or simultaneously with filing the claim;
  • the discovery period is brief and limited written questions and requests for the production of documents;
  • proceedings are handled completely electronically and remotely so attendance at the Copyright Office in Washington, DC will not be required; and
  • its orders will be enforceable through a US federal court.

With respect to relief, the CCB can only award monetary relief up to $30,000 US. Critically,

  • the CCB cannot issue injunctive relief requiring an infringer to stop engaging in further wrongful activities;
  • attorney's fees and costs are not recoverable unless a party acts in bad faith and, even then there is a cap of $5,000 US or $2,500 US if not represented by an attorney.
  • the right to appeal any decision of the CCB is more limited than for an appeal of a federal court decision.

Overall, this new court seems like an ideal venue for resolving disputes arising from take down notices issued under the Digital Millenial Copyright Act, including damages arising from the improper issuance of such notices.