By Gabriella Marks, President, ASMP New Mexico
Simply put, the copyright system is broken as it pertains to individual content creators. While this issue is particularly pertinent to photographers and filmmakers, it impacts all professional creatives. Here in Santa Fe, where we have what I imagine is an unusually high photographer/filmmaker per capita demographic, this issue is especially relevant.
All too often individual creators and small business owners are denied access to federal courts when their works are infringed due to the prohibitive costs of retaining counsel and maintaining federal court litigation—a situation exacerbated by the fact that they are often opposed by well-heeled corporate opponents capable of using their financial means to cause plaintiffs to exhaust their own resources. It is reported that most copyright lawyers believe that it is not worth bringing an infringement suit worth less than $30,000—an amount well in excess of a typical infringement suffered by individual creators valued at around $5,000 but representing a significant and potentially devastating loss of income to the individual creators and small business owners. Moreover, the cost of litigating a copyright case through appeal averages $350,000 and the cost of discovery in federal court alone can easily dwarf any potential recovery for infringements of this typically high volume, low-value creative works.
In response to this situation, ASMP (American Society of Media Professionals) has been working in partnership with the Copyright Alliance, a Washington D.C. consortium that includes big organizations like Disney, Comcast Universal, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPPA) and small creator groups representing visual artists, photographers, authors, musicians, songwriters etc. to introduce reform to the process of individuals seeking compensation for copyright infringement.
The result of this effort is the campaign to enact HR 3945, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2017” (the “CASE Act”) that would create a small claims copyright Board within the Copyright Office. This bipartisan legislation was introduced by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Tom Marino (R-PA) and is cosponsored by Lamar Smith (R-TX), Doug Collins (R-GA), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA).
The bill responds to a fundamental, historic inequity in our copyright laws: the failure of the law to provide these creators with an effective and affordable means to combat infringements of their creative works—an especially vexing problem in a digital world where piracy occurs at the click of a mouse.
The current state of the legislation is that it is in the Judiciary Committee, awaiting a committee vote before it is presented for a vote on the floor. While prospects for the bill look good due to its bipartisan support, there is an incredibly competitive legislative landscape, with myriad legislative priorities jockeying for position, and it’s essential to keep this effort on the radar of our representatives.
Last week, a small delegation of ASMP members met with the office of Representative Ben Ray Lujan to bring the CASE act to his attention. While Lujan is not on the Judiciary Committee, he has seniority in the democratic caucus, and his support, if not outright sponsorship, would be significant for the success of the bill.
Over the past year, I’ve become much more politically engaged than I ever was previously. I now have the phone numbers for all of my members of congress on my phone. I follow their statements, and call to express my support or dissent on a nearly daily basis. One overriding lesson I’ve learned in the process is that in addition to our votes, our voices count. Quite literally, congressional member’s offices count phone calls, emails, written letters and faxes.
We have requested that Representative Lujan confirm whether he supports this bill. One way to help motivate Lujan to do so is to make clear how important this legislation is to his constituency. As a member of Design Corps, ASMP, and the Santa Fe creative community, I’m asking you to consider raising your voice in support of the CASE act, by calling, emailing, tweeting or writing a letter to Representative Ben Ray Lujan. It can take as little as 30 seconds to make a meaningful contribution towards the visibility of this campaign.