Artistic Advocacy: Copyright Claims Board offers access to justice to creative community
Today, the American creative community includes authors, photographers, songwriters and musicians, all of whom strive to produce artistic creations and make a living. But the rise of internet piracy often has left these artists with a troublesome reality: Infringers can easily copy their art, music, writing and photos without their permission. The actions violate the creators’ copyright rights but leave them little recourse.
Pursuing copyright claims through the U.S. federal court system is expensive and time-consuming—too burdensome for creators with claims of modest amounts. Without effective legal rights and remedies, the perpetual theft of these creatives’ copyrighted works can threaten the worth of their professional endeavors.
However, in June, the ABA commemorated an important milestone that addresses the challenges faced by these creators. It was the one-year anniversary of the launch of the new Copyright Claims Board, which was established in the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act.
The Copyright Claims Board, a division of the U.S. Copyright Office, is a direct outcome of the ABA’s long-standing collaborative advocacy with groups representing artists, writers and musicians. The board provides an affordable forum to traditional federal court for low-dollar copyright disputes—up to $15,000 for a single work and up to $30,000 in one proceeding for multiple works.
In just one year, more than 450 copyright-holder claims have been filed with the board, a far greater number than advocates expected. The claimants have included independent photographers and authors. Even Paris Hilton is a defendant in a case being considered by the board.
The ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law started advocating for the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act using the blanket authority process in 2018. After the ABA adopted association policy in support of the new small claims system in 2019, the section worked with the Governmental Affairs Office to enhance its efforts during ABA Day 2020, incorporating grassroots advocacy and social media.
The section also engaged in coalition-based advocacy as part of the ABA’s efforts, working with the Copyright Alliance and other groups to press for the act’s passage.
“Through its advocacy for the CASE Act, the ABA was a crucial advocate for the creative community and the access for justice.” said Keith Kupferschmid, CEO of the Copyright Alliance, which represents creative professionals who worked alongside the ABA on the bill.
But the ABA’s efforts did not stop there. After the act became law, members of the Intellectual Property Section submitted comments during the federal rule-making process to help ensure the effective implementation of the act’s system and enable it to operate smoothly and accomplish its intended objectives.
Another beneficial element of the new system is the provision allowing supervised law students to represent copyright owners in disputes before the board. As a result, several U.S. law schools are launching clinical programs specifically designed to train aspiring copyright legal professionals.
Pippa Loengard is chair of the Intellectual Property Section’s Copyrights and Related Rights Division, and executive director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts at Columbia Law School. She points out the process not only helps train the next generation of lawyers, but it also teaches them about how issues facing the artistic community today are affecting America’s creative future.
The establishment of a specialized forum for such copyright disputes is a unique innovation within the U.S. legal system. As a result of the ABA’s legislative advocacy, the act’s enactment means that the creative community now has an effective avenue to pursue equal access to justice for the theft of their copyrighted works.
By actively advocating for the rights of the creative community, the ABA not only supports those in the artistic community, but it also advances its fundamental mission of ensuring fairness, equity and access to justice for all.
This story was originally published in the October-November 2023 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Artistic Advocacy: Copyright Claims Board offers access to justice to creative community.”
This report is written by the ABA's Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the U.S. government.