Why Are Cases Being Dismissed at the Copyright Claims Board?

The Copyright Claims Board (CCB) is the new small claims court for copyright disputes in the United States. Passed as part of the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act (CASE Act) in December 2020, it threw open its doors in June of this year.

Since then, as of this writing, some 235 cases have been filed with the CCB and zero have made it all the way to a full decision. However, that doesn’t mean that cases aren’t being closed. Currently, some 66 cases on the docket are listed as “closed”.

But that raises a significant question: What is causing these cases to be closed?

This is especially important since the process is opt-out. This means that a potential respondent can simply opt out of the proceedings, forcing the case into a regular court. This led many to fear that the CCB would be useless as respondents can’t be forcefully bound to it.

Is that’s what’s going on? To find out, let’s take a look at the 66 closed cases and see why they have been shuttered.

Why the Cases Are Closing

When you go through the 66 cases marked as closed, a pattern quickly emerges:

ReasonNumber of Cases
Non-Compliant Claim43
Opt-Out9
Voluntary Withdrawal9
No Proof of Service4
No Filing Fee1

Of the 65 total cases, 43 are closed due to a non-compliant claim. That’s roughly ⅔ of all closed cases. Most of these claims were denied due to an issue with the claim itself, though several were denied due to a lack of address information for the respondent.

In all cases, respondents were given an opportunity to amend their case though, in most cases, they did not.

The next most common reasons were a tie between those where the respondent opted out and where the case was voluntarily withdrawn, likely due to a settlement. Both of those causes had 9 apiece. After that, 4 more were closed because, even though the case was allowed to move forward, the claimant didn’t serve the respondent in the time frame allowed. One additional case was closed because the claimant didn’t pay the initial filing fee.

This means that, at this stage, a case is over 4x more likely to be tossed due to an improper claim than an opt-out. When you factor in cases where no proof of service or filing fee was given, five times more cases have been closed due to claimant issues than respondent opt-outs.

While much of this could be the early stage of the CCB and these numbers will likely shift over time, it’s worth noting that many of the cases that were tossed due to the lack of a compliant claim were older and, likely, could have been the subject of an opt-out if they had moved forward timely.

What Does This Mean for Filers?

If you’re a filer, current or prospective, with the CCB, this carries some strong warnings for you.

First, it’s important to understand what you are getting into. Take the time to read the information that the CCB provides in terms of how to draft your complaint, what kinds of cases the CCB hears and the type of information you need.

Make sure you have a case that the CCB can hear, that your copyright registration is in order, and that you fill out the paperwork fully and properly.

Beyond that, it’s also important to ensure that you are aware of the financial costs of filing with the CCB. Though even the most expensive CCB case is far cheaper than a federal court case, the costs can still run into the thousands of dollars depending on what you need and if you get help.

Finally, it’s important to read all correspondence from the CCB carefully. In some cases, it seems like the claimants are either not receiving CCB notices or aren’t following up on them. Make sure that you provide good contact information for the CCB and that you check it regularly and read everything thoroughly.

All in all, this is fairly basic stuff. However, it’s also stuff that is easy to overlook, especially for people unfamiliar with working in a legal environment. That, in turn, is likely why the first batch of cases with the CCB have had such a high failure rate, laypeople simply aren’t used to working in an environment like this one.

Bottom Line

The truth is that everyone is still learning how the CCB is meant to work. Even those who have hired lawyers to help them with their filings have had struggles. 

This is an entirely new system and everyone, even the people running it, are still learning.

That said, it’s telling that far more cases have been closed due to issues with the claim rather than opt-outs. The expectation that all respondents would simply opt out has not come to pass, with the far bigger hurdle being the struggle to file a claim that passes muster with the CCB.

However, as those filing claims learn and more claimants can get to that next phase, it will be interesting to see how many claims result in an opt-out versus claims that go to the actual board. 

Currently, you seem to be equally likely to get a settlement as an opt-out, making the CCB a potentially useful tool to bring people to the negotiating table. 

Right now, though, it seems the greatest obstacle for claimants isn’t the threat of an opt-out, but the claims themselves. Hopefully, that is something that improves over time.