Often, photographers take photos of a subject and posts it to their social media. Later, that photo is downloaded and used by another individual as cover art, an image for a flyer, or just as a social media post without permission or compensation. If the photographer is the rightful owner of the photo, the use by the other individual is copyright infringement. However, those who have their work infringed upon, like the photographer in this situation, usually don’t have a reasonable recourse.

On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act (CASE) into law. The new law was buried in The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, which primarily focused on coronavirus relief and stimulus spending. However, the added copyright provision focuses on claims of infringement brought by individuals for compensation up to $30,000.  

This process makes it much easier than before to protect the work of photographers, videographers, independent artists, and other creatives. However, it is not a perfect process. The new provision creates a board within the Copyright Office that has the authority to resolve claims. However, if one of the parties decides that it does not want to participate in the small claims process within 60 days of the claim being filed, the board will no longer have authority to resolve the dispute. Instead, the copyright holder would have to seek normal means of protecting his rights.

If the board maintains authority to resolve the dispute, it may issue compensation based on actual lost or what’s determined by statute. However, by using this process, no party is entitled to attorneys’ fees or costs unless bad faith misconduct was involved. Once the board makes a final decision, the claim cannot be brought again in another court or to the board. The board’s decision may be challenged in federal district court only if (1) the decision was a result of fraud, corruption, or other misconduct, (2) the Board exceeded its authority or failed to render a final determination, or (3) in a default ruling or failure to prosecute, the default or failure was excusable.

How can you use this to protect you?

The board is set to be established within one year after the signing of The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act. To date, it appears the board has not been set up. So, until then, what can you do to protect yourself? One thing would be to be vigilant with your work and keep tabs on potential violations. If you have not already done so, register your photos, videos, written work, etc.

For more information about the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020 (the CASE Act), visit the copyright office website. If you want to get familiar with the new law and process, take some time and read the CASE Act here.