The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a San Francisco-based digital rights group, this week called on US voters to consider contacting their representatives in Congress in order to urge them not to vote for the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act.
EFF's argument is that, if passed, this bill could easily end up bankrupting ordinary internet users, while never efficiently addressing the problem it was meant to tackle – simplifying the process by which artists can lodge copyright complaints and collect damages in cases concerning, like the proposed act says on the box – “small claims.”
The digital rights group makes a point of the fact that the new legislation would not hold the new Copyright Claims Board it envisions to the same standards as “real courts” – where suing on copyright infringement grounds “requires a valid copyright registration so that there is a verifiable record about the owner and date of creation of the work at issue.”
But should the CASE Act be passed – legal protections would be watered down all the way to removing this requirement – and in the end, making copyright claims “almost impossible to appeal.”
It's likely that nobody can really appreciate the magnitude of facing a legal process where the charge is “almost impossible to appeal.” It's a concept almost impossible to comprehend – until it hits you. One more reason, perhaps, to consider opposing such an act seemingly playing fast and loose with modern democratic legal protections granted to ordinary citizens.
The financial burden of this proposed law – under the said conditions of little to no recourse of appeal – also seem draconian. “Small” though the claims may be – they are capped at $30,000 per case. The average annual income in the US is just under $60,000 – in other words, an unjustified copyright infringement claim that's difficult to defend against could easily end up bankrupting an average American.
But there's also good news – or is there?
“The CASE Act is described as voluntary not because everyone involved has agreed to be there, but because everyone involved has not not agreed. It's as complicated as it sounds,” EFF writes.
It seems to be a bit of a catch-22 situation. Namely – while citizens notified by the newly established Copyright Claims Board about a claim against them would be free to declare themselves as wanting to “opt-out” – the act provides “no requirements about what ‘opting out' looks like other than that it has to be in accordance with regulations created by the Copyright Office itself.”
EFF fears that copyright trolls would benefit from the situation – which the group believes would be not significantly different from the current controversial DMCA solutions – that are “not made easy to read and comply with.”
“And the decisions of the claims board would focus less on issues of fair use and free expression, but more on technicalities and serving the desires of copyright holders,” EFF said.