Update: 4 Copyright Claims Board Cases to Watch

In June 2022, the Copyright Claims Board opened its doors, providing a small-claims alternative to the federal court system for handing copyright disputes.

By August of that year, the CCB had seen its first 100 cases filed as rightsholders took to the board in droves to take advantage of it

Though the CCB has remained popular with filers, many of the cases are being dismissed, most typically because the claim didn’t comply with the CCB’s rules or were not actual copyright infringements

However, a small number of the cases have proved to be interesting and offer valuable tests of the CCB in action. To that end, I highlighted four such potential cases in September 2022

Today, over six months later, I want to go back and look at those cases, what’s happened with them and see what we can glean from each of them.

1: 22-CCB0-0012 – Bronner v. EssayZoo

This case was highlighted in a full article in June 2022. However, the crux of the case is fairly simple, university professor Benjamin Bronner filed the case against the essay mill website EssayZoo, alleging that the site hosted and refused to remove a prompt of his that was offered for sale. 

According to Bronner, he contacted EssayZoo about the infringement and was originally told that there was no infringing material. However, the site did eventually remove the content, but not quickly enough to avoid the case being filed.

Though the case is an interesting one in terms of using the CCB to target an essay mill, the reason it was included in my earlier list is because of the issue of providing service.

Claimants at the CCB, once their case is approved, are required to serve the papers to the respondent. However, EssayZoo was very deceptive about their information, putting a false address on their site.

Knowing this, Bronner opted to serve EssayZoo via publication. This is where he publishes the information about the case in local publications. It was unclear how the CCB would respond to this.

What’s New?

We have our answer on the issue of service. The CCB accepted the service Bronner completed, and the case moved forward, the same as it would have if it had been served directly.

However, that has not resulted in EssayZoo actually responding to the case. Unsurprisingly, EssayZoo has not participated in the case at all. As of this writing, the case has been the subject of two default notices (and one postponement), with a default judgment seeming likely.

When (and if) that happens, the big question will be if and how Bronner will be able to collect any damages that he won? 

2: 22-CCB-0037 – Wood v. Spirit Halloween Superstores LLC 

This case features artist Thomas E Wood, who claims that Spirit Halloween, the popular store chain, violated the copyright in a character that he drew by releasing a similar mask for sale in their stores.

The case was an interesting one for several reasons, one of which was that it pitted an individual artist against a giant retail chain. 

However, the bigger reason was that the original claim was denied by the CCB for failing to prove that Spirit had access to the work. However, access is routinely one of the most difficult things to show in cases such as this, making it an interesting case study in how the CCB would approach the topic. 

What’s New? 

Wood refiled the case less than a week after my previous article went live. In the amended claim, Wood highlighted the work that he did with the Insane Clown Posse, as well as other popular musical acts. He also noted that his work was widely sold on Amazon, Walmart and other sites.

The CCB accepted the amended claim and instructed Wood to provide service to Spirit Halloween. Apparently he did that, as the case was quickly settled and the board dismissed the case, appropriately enough, on Halloween day 2022.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. 

3: 22-CCB-0081 – Hiro LLC v. Dragvertising LLC

This case pitted a company that was attempting to launch a mobile app, Hiro, against one of the companies it hired to help design that app, Dragvertising.

The case was unique for a simple reason: Hiro was the alleged infringer and was seeking a judgement of non-infringement. Accordion to their claim, they hired Dragvertising to design the app but found their product unsatisfactory and severed the relationship.

When Hiro launched their completed app, Dragvertising filed takedown notices with the major app stores, prompting Hiro to file counternotices. Hiro then filed the claim with the CCB, seeking a judgement of non-infringement.

What’s New? 

When I wrote the original article, the CCB hadn’t decided if it was accepting the case. It did so and instructed Hiro to serve Dragvertising with the paperwork. 

However, Hiro never did so, or at least didn’t provide proof it did so, resulting in the case being dismissed in December 2022. 

4: 22-CCB-0112 – Paramount Pictures Corporation v. JMC Pop Ups LLC

Finally, this case was also the subject of a full article on this site. However, the summary of the case is that it pits Paramount Pictures against the operator of pop-up restaurants that hosted two separate “McDowell’s”-themed events that were inspired by the Coming to America films. 

The case was unusual for several reasons. The biggest was that it was one of the few cases where a large corporation used the Copyright Claims Board to take action against an alleged infringer.

However, the case dealt with several complicated issues, including the intersection between trademark and copyright, the fact McDowell’s was originally a parody of McDonald’s and other complicated factors. 

At the time of the original article, the case had just been filed and had not even been accepted by the CCB. 

What’s New?

This case is ongoing and has been one of the most active cases in all the CCB.

In October 2022, the CCB accepted the case and ordered service, which was completed in November. From there, the respondents did not opt out and, after some reminders from the board, registered with the CCB and began to defend the case.

In March 2023, they provided a response to the claim, where they alleged that all of the similarities between their pop-up and the films were not protectable by copyright. As such, they said that Paramount should not be eligible for any damages.

The case remains open right now, however, in a filing last week, both sides requested a stay in proceedings pending settlement talks. The case is currently on hold until May 15, 2023. 

A settlement in this case seems likely. 

Bottom Line

So, what did all this teach us about the CCB? Frankly, not a lot.

Though we did definitively learn that the CCB will accept service via publication and more about its standards for proving access, at least for passing the first phase, not a lot has been picked up in these cases.

However, we were never going to learn a great deal from just four cases, especially considering the probability that most, if not all, would not be contested or reach a satisfactory conclusion.

We’re going to need to examine a lot more cases and let a lot more time pass before we have a good handle on how the CCB will operate, the cases it will be best for and what its ideal uses are. 

Simply put, this is a new institution, and we are feeling it out at the same time it is figuring itself out. Time will tell what its role is in the copyright landscape and whether it serves its supposed purpose.

While these four cases can provide some clues, there are many, many more CCB cases worth watching, and we’ll be examining some of those in the near future. 

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