The First Case at the Copyright Claims Board Reaches Final Determination

On February 28, the Copyright Office announced that the Copyright Claims Board (“CCB”) issued its first determination on the merits in a proceeding since the CCB’s formation. The CCB’s determination in Oppenheimer v. Prutton found in favor of the claimant and awarded him $1,000 in statutory damages.

About the Copyright Claims Board

Established under the United States Copyright Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2019, the CCB is a cost-effective and efficient alternative to federal court for resolving copyright disputes. The CCB was designed to hear certain types of copyright infringement claims, including claims of small-scale copyright infringement involving works such as photographs, images, and written works. The CCB provides a voluntary and streamlined process for resolving certain copyright infringement claims outside of court.

The CCB Declines to Award Maximum Statutory Damages

Oppenheimer v. Prutton was referred to the CCB by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California two months before the board was officially open. The claimant, Oppenheimer, alleged copyright infringement and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for removal of Copyright Management Information.

Relief from the CCB is primarily monetary, within certain limits. A party cannot bring a claim before the CCB seeking more than $30,000 in total damages. A party who brings a successful copyright infringement claim can choose to recover either statutory damages (a dollar amount in specific ranges set by the Copyright Act) or actual damages and profits (a dollar amount based on the actual harm suffered by the copyright owner and the profits made from the infringement).

In Oppenheimer, the claimant requested the maximum award of statutory damages ($15,000 per work for works timely registered, and $7,500 for works not timely registered). The CCB found the works at issue were registered timely, but did not award the requested statutory maximum because the claimant did not provide enough evidence of actual damages tied to his request for statutory damages. In deciding statutory damages, the CCB  considered factors including: (1) the expenses saved and the profits reaped; (2) the revenues lost by the plaintiff; (3) the value of the copyright; (4) the deterrent effect on others besides the defendant; (5) whether the defendant’s conduct was innocent or willful; (6) whether a defendant has cooperated in providing particular records from which to assess the value of the infringing material produced; and (7) the potential for discouraging the defendant.

The CCB found that, considering the totality of the circumstances of the accused infringement, only a small increase from the minimum statutory damages was appropriate.

Opening a Matter with the CCB

Parties may choose to participate in the CCB process voluntarily or be referred by a federal court. The CCB operates much like a court, with three Copyright Claims Officers appointed to hear cases and issue decisions. The CCB proceedings are less formal than court proceedings, and parties may represent themselves or be represented by an attorney.

The CCB process is initiated by filing a claim with the Copyright Office and paying a fee. The respondent then has the opportunity to respond to the claim, and the parties may engage in settlement negotiations or proceed to a hearing. The CCB aims to issue decisions within one year of the filing of the claim.

Overall, the CCB provides an accessible and efficient means of resolving certain types of copyright disputes, much like it did in Oppenheimer. The CCB offers a more cost-effective and streamlined alternative to traditional litigation, making it an attractive option for copyright owners and users alike with small amounts in controversy. However, parties should carefully consider their options before deciding whether to participate in the CCB process or pursue litigation in court.

If you are involved in a copyright infringement dispute, contact us to learn how we can help.

Griffith Barbee PLLC

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