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New proposed US copyright laws are a major threat to free speech

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A bill looking to make it easy to sue internet users for copyright infringement stands a good chance of being passed in the US Congress.

But further facilitating such claims, as the CASE Act proposes, could boost copyright trolling and have negative effects on free speech says the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The bill’s goal is to introduce a so-called copyright small claims court, to make sure copyright holders suing on infringement grounds don’t have to bring costly federal cases each time.

Instead, the EFF noted in its criticism of the planned legislation, a quasi-court would be set up within the Copyright Office – which is not an impartial participant. The digital rights group is now warning that the CASE Act would remove many protections currently afforded to internet users, and expose them to copyright trolls.

Even though the bill caps the fines at $5,000 – $15,000 per work – that’s still high enough to financially ruin many Americans, where the average annual income is $57,652. And this is particularly true because the new process would leave those accused of infringement “without many of the traditional legal safeguards or rights of appeal [US] justice system provides.”

To make suing people in this way even easier – and no doubt more appetizing for copyright trolls – the bill states that a copyright holder would be able to sue even if the work they claim had been infringed was not registered with the Copyright Office.

That would produce a catastrophic situation. “Nearly every photo, video, or bit of text on the Internet can suddenly carry a $7,500 price tag if uploaded, downloaded, or shared even if the actual harm from that copying is nil,” the EFF warned, calling on internet users in the US to contact their senators and oppose the legislation.

As for the danger posed by the CASE Act to free speech, the organization said it would turn the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice “into a long-term censorship tool.”

Namely, the bill would allow copyright holders to request that content be removed from online platforms, and at the same time bring their case before the new small claims court. The platforms would no longer be under obligation to act on a counter-notice and repost the content within 14 days.

This could then turn into many months of effective censorship, the EFF is warning.

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