Guest post from Rick Carnes, President, Songwriters Guild of America.
How many times in a dispute have you heard someone say, “Let’s not a make a Federal case out of this.” Everyone knows that the enormous cost and energy it takes to prosecute a case in Federal Court is beyond the means of most citizens, and rarely makes financial sense, except as to those rare claims for damages in the millions of dollars. But “making a Federal case of it” is exactly what an individual songwriter must currently do under the law if his or her song is used without permission and infringed.
I recall with great dismay the day that I first saw my songs being streamed on YouTube without my consent, and realized the futility of sending a take down notice to protect my rights. When I sent the notice, another unlicensed copy appeared within minutes of the first one being taken down. And then another. And another.
Faced with playing an unwinnable game of ‘Whack-a-mole’ with infringers, I realized that my only other recourse was to file an infringement case in Federal Court against the unauthorized up-loaders which would, ages later, likely end up costing massively more than I could ever collect in damages. The average cost to bring a single, full-blown copyright infringement claim today is estimated to approach $350,000 in legal fees. At the same time, statutory damages for such infringements are currently capped under the US Copyright Act at less than half that amount per title!
The Copyright law is useless to songwriters when the cost of enforcement of our rights far exceeds the compensatory damages able to be recovered against infringers. In response to this conundrum, The Songwriters Guild of America several years ago began promoting the idea of a Copyright Small Claims Court, and we are happy to say that the US Copyright office heard us and recently issued a detailed report in support of the idea.
Today, I am even happier to report that Congressmen Hakeem Jeffries and Tom Marino have responded with the newly introduced the “Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2016”.
We believe that this Bill strikes the right balance between consumers and creators, establishing an alternative, opt-in arbitration system to resolve copyright infringement cases without necessitating the time and expense of filing and defending a “Federal Case.”
Every American should have the right to protect his or her property, whether a lawnmower, a bicycle, or a song. It is long past time for Congress to give music creators a viable way to seek fair remedies when our rights are violated, and we thank both the Copyright Office and the Congressional sponsors for standing up in this regard for the smallest of small business people: American Songwriters.