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With the CASE act, Congress takes aim at memes

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On July 2, the US Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act after the bill garnered bipartisan support in the Congress.

The case made by legislators pushing for the final adoption of the proposal – that should take place before the full Senate – is that it is designed to protect, in a simplified procedure, copyrighted material shared online and artists who originally created it.

To that end, the bill wants to set up the Copyright Claims Board (CCB) within the US Copyright Office, allowing for a less expensive legal procedure compared to taking the claims of copyright infringement before a federal court.

The bill has been supported and pushed for many years now by the likes of the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) and the Copyright Alliance.

However, critics say, in reality – the bill, if it passes, would allow for legal processes without putting in place proper protections of the accused infringers – and also create an enticing legal opportunity that is almost sure to attract copyright trolls in droves.

Congress wants to make it easier to sue those who post a meme that they didn’t originally create themselves – essentially giving lawyers a new weapon to combat free speech by giving them more reason to take down someone they don’t like.

Considering that the bill proposes fines of up to $30,000 for each case – what the CASE Act could result in ordering payment of damages worth a little under half the average annual household income in the US – over a trivial misstep such as posting the wrong meme.

And, just as it makes suing easier for claimants – be they artists or copyright trolls – the CASE Act would make life much more difficult for those accused of copyright violations, as they would not even be able to appeal the rulings.

Meanwhile, the accusers could sue for work that isn’t registered by the Copyright Office and would not be under obligation to prove that harm had in fact been done by the alleged copyright infringement.

“A tribunal (CCB) with that kind of punitive power must be accountable. The system envisioned by the CASE Act is not,” said Meredith Rose of the open internet group Public Knowledge.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also spoke out against the bill, suggesting that it was one-sided in promoting copyright holders into “a privileged category of litigants.”

The US is not alone in trying to find ways to dispense with an open internet. Earlier in the year, the EU adopted its new copyright directive, whose Article 13 is known as “the meme ban.”

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