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VISUAL ARTS GROUPS APPLAUD RELEASE OF NEW SMALL CLAIMS LEGISLATION (H.R. 2426, S. 1273)
May 1, 2019 – A coalition of visual artists, representing hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pop creators in every state across the country is praising U.S. House and Senate sponsors for taking steps to correct a century-old inequity in copyright law. The legislation—introduced today by Congressmen Jeffries, Collins, Nadler, Johnson, Roby, Chu, Cline, Lieu and Fitzpatrick as well as Senators Kennedy, Tillis, Durbin and Hirono, creates a small claims process for creators whose work is infringed. The Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement Act (CASE Act) represents a rare bipartisan, bicameral effort on Capitol Hill.
The CASE Act creates a small claims tribunal operating under the U.S. Copyright Office — a process that will be especially valuable to an estimated 500,000 small creators, including photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, song-writers, independent authors, and others whose only remedy for infringement is to pursue an action in Federal Court. A Federal court action can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring to fruition, while small creators report that most infringements are valued at $3,000 or less.
“It’s hard to imagine a world that doesn’t protect small creators, but that is exactly what we have today,” says David Trust, CEO of Professional Photographers of America. “Ironically, it is the same group of creators that can least afford to have their work stolen.” Trust is referring to surveys that show many, or most, small creators earning just $35,000 a year on average. “With the CASE Act, smaller creators would finally have an equal seat at the table of protections enjoyed for so long by other creators.”
The CASE Act would provide a way for creators to recover damages from an infringement without going to Federal Court. Damages would be capped at $30,000 per proceeding, although expectations are that most of the claims would be valued at much less than that. Proponents of the bill believe the creation of a small claims process is long overdue.
American Society of Media Photographers executive director Tom Kennedy stresses the urgency for a small claims process. “For ASMP members, congressional action on the CASE Act is not an abstract exercise in lawmaking. Photographers we represent are small business owners who depend on licensing income from their photographs to stay solvent as they work long hours without the luxury of lots of staff to make their businesses work smoothly. Yet, unfortunately on a weekly basis, our members experience multiple infringements that deprive them of the income so necessary for business success. That lack of income can be the different for making a mortgage payment or paying a school tuition.”
The Graphic Artists Guild strongly supports the introduction of the The CASE Act, establishing a copyright small claims tribunal. “Graphic artists – designers and illustrators – are caught in a zero-sum game when it comes to enforcing their copyrights”, says Rebecca Blake, Advocacy Liaison for the Graphic Artists Guild. “Their work is routinely infringed and infringers, knowing that the artists often don’t have the means to take an infringement lawsuit to federal court, usually ignore their attempts to revolve the dispute. The CASE Act will provide an affordable, equitable means for graphic artists to enforce their copyright.”
“Copyright infringement is a pernicious problem for our members,” said Michael P. King, President of the National Press Photographers Association. “Visual journalism is incredibly valuable work that is regularly stolen and circulated on the Internet. Yet visual journalists currently face a long, expensive process to be compensated for the theft of their work. The manner in which infringement persists without a workable remedy is economically devastating for photographers, their clients and their employers. It is our hope that the balanced nature of the CASE Act provides a real solution for photographers and other authors.”
“We are so grateful that Congress is taking up the CASE Act,” says Cathy Aron, Digital Media Licensing Association executive director. “This legislation is a critical element of copyright reform as it offers the image licensing industry, and others, an alternative to expensive Federal litigation to resolve copyright claims in an affordable manner. An effective copyright system is the bedrock of the licensing community, and an ability to seek real remedies for the garden variety infringements that are pervasive in an online environment, is essential to the licensing industry. We are delighted that all the hard work from many associations, congress people, senators, and advocates is finally paying off.”
Having the CASE Act enacted into law would finally provide individual creators with the tools they need to protect their creative works from those who use them without permission or compensation. Enacting the CASE Act would remedy a historic inequity of the copyright system and by giving visual creators the kinds of protections that enables them to continue to create works that impact all of society in a positive way.
Stay tuned for more updates, and Calls to Action as things continue to progress through Congress!
From the Visual Artists Community
Rebecca Blake, Advocacy Liaison at the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG), says, "Online distribution channels and technologies have facilitated the rampant infringement of visual works, and visual artists have seen their licensing income plummet. And yet small rights holders, such as illustrators, graphic designers, and other visual artists, are often deterred from enforcing their copyrights by the sheer cost of pursuing a copyright infringement claim. The establishment of a small claims system would go far to redress this situation."
James Lorin Silverberg, Legal Counsel for the American Photographic Artists, Inc. (APA) said, "A Copyright Small Claims Court promises to provide authors and content users with an expedient, cost efficient, forum for the resolution of copyright disputes. But the importance of a small claims system is not merely to resolve differences between rights owners and rights users. By making copyrights enforceable in practical terms, it acts to restore the integrity of the copyright system, and copyright licensing models, and it contributes to a more vibrant and healthier intellectual property economy."
Thomas Kennedy, executive director of American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) said, "Implementing a small claims tribunal system within the U.S. Copyright Office is essential to ensure photographers, illustrators, graphic designers and other visual artists are appropriately protected and incentivized to continue producing work that changes how people see their world."
Cathy Aron, Executive Director of the Digital Media Licensing Association (DMLA) said, "Our association supports the creation of a copyright small claims forum to encourage licensing of visual content from legitimate sources. A small claims court should help stem the tide of "right-click" image use as it offers content creators and their representatives a way to effectively enforce copyright and seek appropriate payment. The digital economy needs to work for all participants and this is an essential step forward."
Lisa F. Shaftel, Shaftel & Schmelzer said, "Too often when an infringement is discovered, there is little or nothing a visual creator can do to stop the infringing use or recoup financial damages. Our current copyright laws are virtually unenforceable when damages resulting from infringement would be under $30,000. That’s not much to big business, but to self-employed independent contractors and small studios this is a significant loss of income. This relatively 'small-value' infringement happens to nearly every professional illustrator and graphic artist during his or her career, causing economic harm to small businesses and families."
Melissa Lyttle, president of National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), explained the importance of such a measure to photographers. "Photojournalists tell the story of our nation and our world, and their work is a critical piece of our democracy, but rampant infringement has devalued our work and made it increasingly difficult to make a living in this field. A small claims solution has the promise to improve the financial viability of our profession and preserve the ability of journalists to tell stories that would never be told otherwise."
Sean Fitzgerald, president of the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) said, "America's photographers and visual creators are desperate. Today’s digital age has unleashed a torrent of 'small' but destructive infringements that are eating away at the value of their work, but the current copyright system is simply not designed to help with such claims. A small claims court designed to give photographers and visual creators a fighting chance at protecting their work and livelihood from infringement is sorely needed and long overdue."
"The harsh reality is that the vast majority of creators in America are currently excluded from copyright protection. A copyright small claims process would finally level the playing field, creating an opportunity to repair a decades-long inequity of our nation's copyright system," said David Trust, CEO of Professional Photographer of America. "This legislation would be the game-changer that we have been working towards for years on the Hill."