One Year of the Copyright Claims Board

On June 16, 2022, the Copyright Claims Board (CCB) opened its electronic doors to the world. 

It was passed into law in December 2020 as part of the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act, which tasked the United States Copyright Office (USCO) with establishing the board. 

The goal of the CCB was to provide a small claims court for copyright cases. This was needed because, in the United States, copyright is a matter solely for federal jurisdiction. This means that even minor cases can incur high legal fees and damages. 

The CCB provides an optional solution to that process, one that is meant to be easier, more accessible and less expensive. However, damages are capped to $15,000 per infringement and $30,000 per case. By comparison, in federal court, there is no cap on actual damages and statutory damages are capped at $150,000 per infringement with no limits per case.

However, despite the limitations and the need for such a system, the CCB was highly controversial ahead of its passage and launch. Many were concerned that the CCB could be a new tool for “copyright trolls” and that “life-altering” copyright lawsuits could become much more common.

A year later and that rhetoric has died down. The dire predictions about a copyright apocalypse did not come to pass. However, neither did a lot of the potential benefits. 

One year in, the Copyright Claims Board has only decided one case. Meanwhile, some 305 cases submitted to the board have been closed. That represents over half of the 486 cases that have been filed since the CCB’s launch.

So, now is an excellent time to take a realistic look at how things are going for the CCB, why the dire predictions about it didn’t come to fruition and why it may be struggling to live up to its full potential.

The CCB: By the Numbers 

Since the opening of the CCB in June 2022, there have been some 486 cases filed with it. This includes some 277 cases filed after opening in 2022 and another 209 filed on or before June 16 in 2023.

Of those cases, some 305 are marked closed. This means that roughly 63% of all cases filed with the CCB have been closed, though only one was closed because of a decision by the CCB itself, and that one actually started in Federal court and was moved to the CCB after it opened.

The most common reason for cases to be closed is a non-compliant claim. These are cases where the original claim doesn’t meet the criteria for the CCB and, despite a notice to amend the claim, it’s either not amended or not amended to the satisfaction of the board.

Other cases are being dismissed due to respondents opting out of the procedure, voluntary withdrawals of the claim (usually due to a settlement) and issues with providing proof of service to the respondent.

However, we are seeing things ramp up at the board. As we discussed in May, there are at least five other contested cases before the board. It’s very likely that we’re going to see a slew of decisions from the board over the next few months that may give a better indication of the direction the board will take in future cases.

All in all, though the CCB has seen a great deal of activity, not much of it has truly gone anywhere. This, in turn, is very different from the dire predictions many made before it launched.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

In the run-up to the launch of the CCB, there was both a great deal of optimism and a great deal of fear.

On the fear side, many were worried that the CCB would become a tool of “copyright trolls” that would target a large number of suspected infringers, especially for things such as internet downloads or relatively minor infringements on websites.

That, however, never happened. Though the first decided case involved a photographer commonly referred to as a “copyright troll”, that case actually began in federal court and was moved to the CCB. Furthermore, the CCB’s biggest filer by far, Joe Hand Promotions, has only targeted businesses unlawfully streaming UFC, WWE or AEW events.

This worst-case outcome was never likely. Any copyright “troll” operation relies on the massive damages of federal court as well as the costs of defense to truly operate. This is especially true for piracy lawsuits, where a subpoena is often needed to identify the alleged infringer.

Strike 3 Holdings, widely held as the most prolific copyright lawsuit filer with over 9,500 cases since 2017, hasn’t filed any cases with the CCB.

Though photographers do make up a plurality of CCB cases, the fear of widespread misuse of the CCB never came to fruition. The cases before the CCB are incredibly varied, with nearly every type of work (and every type of alleged infringement) represented.

But while the fears didn’t come to fruition, many of the hopes didn’t either. The first year has been a mixed bag for the CCB, even if it is far too early to pass judgment.

Not Living Up to the Hype

But while the CCB hasn’t been a haven for ne’er-do-wells and scofflaws, it also hasn’t been the boon for smaller creators and copyright holders either.

The biggest problem has been the dismissal rate. 

As we discussed above, 63% of the cases are closed, with the majority being dismissed due to faulty claims or lack of service. 

Some of this, to be clear, is to be expected. The CCB is still a very new system, and the first people to try it were bound to make mistakes. This includes both those representing themselves and using lawyers. 

However, a big part of the purpose of the CCB was to be approachable by laypeople. It was meant to be easily understood, accessible to just about anyone, and incredibly affordable.

While certainly all those things are more true for the CCB than federal court, the true cost of filing with the CCB is far higher than some are prepared for. Likewise, the CCB still uses some confusing terminology (often using synonyms for other legal terms) and nothing it can do can help avoid the complications and nuance of copyright law itself.

Though I expect this rate of dismissal to improve over time as filers become more familiar with the system and the rules become more clearly laid out, it’s still frustrating to see so many cases discarded, often for simple and avoidable reasons.

Out of the gate, the CCB has not been a boon for smaller creators. While that may improve with increased familiarity, the first year definitely highlighted some grown pains the CCB is going through.

Bottom Line

The first year was a bit of a stumble for the CCB. Though it was nowhere near the epic disaster filled with abuse that some had predicted, it also wasn’t the massive boon to smaller creators many had hoped for.

However, it’s premature to judge the CCB. Simply put, the first year has, more than anything, about the CCB and its filers learning how the system works. There have been a lot of mistakes by filers and a few by the CCB itself that have delayed some cases. 

Such stumbles are natural for something so new and different.

Right now, things finally seem to be hitting a rhythm with multiple contested cases and a slew of new, interesting issues before the CCB. Furthermore, though the number of cases appears to be slowing down some, the likelihood of those cases being accepted seems to be going up.

So, while the first year of the CCB has been interesting, it’s not likely representative of what the CCB will be doing long-term. This next year will, most likely, give us much better answers along those lines.

So, as we wave goodbye to the first year of the CCB’s history, it’s also time prepare for the second. We will learn a great deal about the CCB over the next 12 months, and it’ll be interesting to see what comes from it. 

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