This week, Congress managed to pass a bill to help small copyright owners deal with infringement issues. Typically, a copyright owner must allege copyright infringement in a federal district court to protect his/her intellectual property. Such lawsuits can be costly; moreover, particularly with a larger entity as the infringer, the copyright owner risks a deeper pocket outspending them. Since many copyright owners are smaller entities, such as individual photographers, Congress decided to act. As such, Congress established a small claims copyright court for alleging copyright infringement.

By registering a copyright, a copyright owner gains the ability to win statutory damages in a copyright infringement suit. Statutory damages range from $750 to $30,000 per infringement; in cases of willful infringement, statutory damages can cost as much as $150,000 per infringement. However, most cases do not reach a statutory damages resolution; instead, most cases go nowhere, or hopefully result in a settlement. The copyright owner, however, faces the burden of proven infringement and faces a lengthy infringement process to earn any judgment.

Recognizing that many copyright owners are artists who may not have the funds for a full lawsuit, Congress provided an alternative. Now, these copyright owners can engage in a sort of copyright small claims court. A tribunal hears the case instead of a federal court, thereby reducing costs for all parties. However, the copyright owner’s judgment is capped at $15,000 per work and $30,000 per total claim for a registered copyright. Since unregistered works received caps of $7,500 per work and $15,000 per total claim, Congress still incentivized registration. After the initial filing, the infringer can opt out of the small claims process within a 60-day window to proceed to federal court.

Amazon recently introduced a somewhat similar process through its Neutral Patent Evaluation Proceeding. However, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act represents the government’s attempt at reducing costs for a copyright lawsuit. The future of intellectual infringement allegations looks bright with alternatives to lawsuits, at least for patents and copyrights.

How much does it cost to register a copyright?

The standard filing fee for a copyright ranges from $45 to $65, depending on the work.

Why should I register my copyright?

Registering a copyright opens an avenue to obtain statutory damages, as well as participate in the new copyright small claims court for a higher damages award.

When does the Small Claims Copyright Court start?

The Copyright Office has one year to develop the procedures and rules for the small claims court. Expect the first proceedings towards the end of 2021 or early 2022.