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Collins statement on H.R. 2426 markup – House Judiciary Committee

“Forcing artists to tolerate the theft of their works violates the fundamental rule that all religions, civilized people and children are taught, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ Congress must act to help these artists and creators and stop this theft. . . . 
 
“H.R. 2426, the CASE Act, would provide an inexpensive alternative to costly federal court litigation by establishing a copyright small claims proceeding within the Copyright Office.”

WASHINGTON — Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made the following opening statement at today’s markup of H.R. 2426, the Copyright Alternatives in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act.

Below are the remarks as prepared.

Ranking Member Collins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. To promote the development of creative works, the United States Constitution expressly provides for their protection. Under that lofty authority, Congress established the copyright system. As was the hope, copyright-intensive industries have become critical to our economy, reportedly contributing more than one trillion dollars to the U.S. economy each year.

Nothing in the Constitution suggests the Founding Fathers intended to place limits on who could enforce their copyrights, but, in reality, the system we have today does limit enforcement. It limits enforcement to those who can afford to bring a costly federal district court action. Many small businesses and individuals are unable to enforce their copyrights because they cannot afford the tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars required to hire lawyers to litigate a copyright claim in federal court.

Instead, they have to sit back, powerless to act, and witness the theft of their copyrighted works. They often have to watch as thieves continuously profit off of their works. This cannot be what our Founding Fathers intended when they sought to create a system that fosters the creation of artistic works. This is not right, and this is not fair. Forcing artists to tolerate the theft of their works violates the fundamental rule that all religions, civilized people and children are taught, “Thou shalt not steal.” Congress must act to help these artists and creators and by stopping this theft.

That is why so many members of this committee have helped craft legislation to address theft of copyrighted works. H.R. 2426, the CASE Act, would provide an inexpensive alternative to costly federal court litigation by establishing a copyright small claims proceeding within the Copyright Office. The proceeding would be relatively simple, mostly conducted in writing, and any hearing would be conducted by phone or over the internet.

Under the bill, cases are to be decided by a three-judge panel of subject matter experts within the Copyright Office, who would adjudicate only straightforward cases of alleged copyright infringement. Damage awards would be low. Statutory damage awards can be no greater than $15,000 per work, with a maximum total award per case set at $30,000.

One of the key attributes of the CASE Act is that it forces both parties to carefully evaluate the merits of their claims and defenses and make a good faith determination of the reasonableness of their arguments. Parties are very likely to reach a mutually agreeable resolution of the case because it will be heard by an impartial third-party who determines whether the claim has merit. If one side feels there is too much at stake, either party can simply opt out and seek relief in district court.

Similarly, those falsely accused of infringement can simply opt out of the small claims proceeding. Participation would be completely optional.

For those who do opt in, H.R. 2426 includes a number of safeguards to prevent abuse. The CASE Act requires monitoring by the Copyright Office to ensure one person does not file too many cases, vests the Copyright Office with the authority to limit the number of cases one person can file and limits damages to a fraction of what might be awarded by a judge or jury in district court. Those provisions make it essentially impossible to use this proceeding simply to harass.

Several provisions of H.R. 2426 would protect against inadvertent default judgments. They include requirements that the accused infringer be physically served with the complaint. The complaint must warn the accused infringer of the ramifications of not responding and give that person multiple chances to respond. Before a default judgment can be issued, the copyright owner must establish that the accused actually infringed on the copyright. Only after all of that, and if the accused infringer still knowingly decides not to fight the case, will the tribunal hand down a default judgment.

H.R. 2426 is intended to provide a streamlined, inexpensive alternative for parties to fairly resolve small claims of copyright infringement outside of court. I urge my colleagues, most of whom are already cosponsors, to support this legislation.

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