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Copyright

This guide contains information (but not legal advice) about aspects of copyright most commonly encountered by the students, faculty, or staff of institutions of higher education.

What is the CASE Act And Why Should I Care?

The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020 (CASE Act), which became law on December 27, 2020, directs the U.S. Copyright Office to establish a new tribunal, the Copyright Claims Board (CCB), to resolve copyright disputes with a monetary value of up to $30,000. One unintended consequence of the CASE Act is that individuals could find themselves being assessed financially devastating fines for what should be considered legal use of intellectual property for research and scholarship. 

For copyright holders, the CASE Act provides a streamlined mechanism for seeking damages for copyright infringements. For example, if a photographer learns that a major television network used one of her photographs in a way that infringes on her copyright, the CASE Act allows her to go to the Copyright Claims Board seeking damages without the need to be represented by an attorney. Prior to the CASE Act, the only option for copyright holders was to sue in federal court, a complex and costly process that requires a minimum damage claim of $75,000 before a copyright infringement case can be heard. 

However, the CASE Act can prove detrimental to scholars who make fair use of copyrighted materials. For example, suppose an author finds that a graduate student quoted a passage from his novel in a dissertation that is available via an institutional repository. Even though the graduate student has the right to quote that passage under the principle of fair use, if the author files a claim with the Copyright Claims Board and the graduate student fails to respond to the notification of the claim, the Copyright Claims Board could award the author up to $30,000 even though fair use applies.  

What to Do If You Receive a CCB Claim Notice?

Why Would You Receive a CCB Claim Notice?
If you receive a CCB claim notice, it means that a copyright holder (actual or purported) is asserting that you have infringed on their copyright by uploading, performing, displaying, or distributing their intellectual property. Receiving a notice does not mean that you are guilty of infringement. For example, your use of the material in question may be protected under the principle of fair use, or the material may not be copyrightable, or the person making the assertion may not be the actual copyright holder.

How Are CCB Claim Notices Delivered?
Any legally valid CCB claim notice directed to you must be either handed to you in person or be delivered via the U.S. mail. A genuine CCB claim notice will include a docket number and a website you can visit to get more information about the claim that has been filed against you.

 

If you live in California, you cannot be served with a CCB claim notice (or any other legal “service of process”) via email. If you receive an email that purports to be a CCB claim notice, you should proceed warily.

What Are Your Options If You Receive a CCB Claims Notice?
First of all, do not ignore a CCB claim notice; if you do, the CCB tribunal may render a judgement of up to $30,000 against you and you will be left with few options to appeal that decision.

Option One
Opt out of the CCB process within sixty days of being served with a claim notice. If you choose this option, the claimant cannot bring the same claim against you before the CCB. If you opt out, it is possible for the claimant to then sue you in federal court; however:

  • the federal court’s cost, complexity, and requirement of a minimum $75,000 claim increase the likelihood that a claimant who begins by filing with the CCB will drop the claim rather than pursue it in federal court,
  • a claimant’s chances of prevailing in federal court are not as favorable as before the CCB,
  • UC employees are likely to enjoy broader protections in federal court than before the CCB.

While not necessarily the best course of action in every case, opting out in a timely manner may often work in the favor of anyone who has received a CCB claim notice.

Option Two
Proceed with the CCB process. While you may prevail before the CCB tribunal, if you lose your case you may be required to pay $15,000 for each infringed work up to a maximum of $30,000. The decisions of the CCB tribunal are final and can only be appealed under such limited circumstances as fraud, corruption, and misrepresentation.

Where to Get Help
Whether or not you believe you have infringed on someone else’s copyright, the best course of action is to seek legal counsel as soon as possible after receiving a CCB claim notice. UC Merced students in need of legal counsel have the option of contacting the Associated Students of UC Merced Law Clinic. If you’re a UC Merced student, staff, or faculty member and the claim is related to what you do at UC, contact the UC Merced Office of Legal Affairs or UC’s Office of General Counsel.

More Information
See the University of California Office of the President Copyright Claims Board webpage. 
UC Berkeley also provides valuable information on copyright small claims.