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Work of New Media Rights Prominent in Copyright Office Small Claims Recommendations

Art Neill, New Media Rights Executive Director

If you have ever posted video to YouTube, Facebook, or other social media and want to protect your copyright, you would have a new avenue to protect your work from illegal copying if a recommendation to establish a small claims court for copyrights is adopted.

“This would have a direct impact on people who post videos on YouTube and Facebook,” said Art Neill, the Executive Director of the New Media Rights Program based at California Western, which has an important role in the compiling of a formal report by the U.S. Copyright Office that recommends the copyright small claims court.

“It may be an avenue to enforce their rights and make sure folks aren’t copying their content. It also may be a way to defend themselves against content bullying,” Neill adds. “Content bullying is when copyright owners use their copyrights to intimidate smaller, otherwise innocent defendants into settlements or removing content.”

New Media Rights has been heavily involved in the process, providing comments and testimony in the regulatory proceedings. New Media Rights is cited several times in the report, including direct quotes from Neill's testimony. California Western student interns were involved in the process of providing input to the Copyright Office, which is invaluable experience for them as they prepare to practice law.

"New Media Rights saw early on that a new small claims court would have a dramatic impact on independent creators, internet users, and entrepreneurs,” says Neill. “We've shared our expertise with the Copyright Office in order to ensure that any new system is balanced—respecting fair use and providing a fair and just system for resolution of copyright disputes—not simply a new venue for content bullying."

Some of New Media Rights recommendations that made it into the final report include:

  • Making sure the small claims court system is not adjudicated at the state level because, as quoted in the report, “While the state small claims courts are well experienced in dealing with small disputes, they usually deal with contract and tort law which have clearer established doctrines and are easier to simplify into matters of equity.”

  • Making sure that internet users whose content is taken down are given a forum in which to challenge content bullying.

  • Allowing parties to be represented by attorneys because, as quoted by the Copyright Office in the report, “If copyright law is full of issues that even fully trained attorneys struggle with, how will the average small-time plaintiff or defendant successfully represent themselves?”

  • The need for consistent application of attorney’s fees and costs as part of a Small Claims system to prevent abuse to the system, because, as quoted in the report, prevailing plaintiffs are routinely able to access attorney’s fees simply by having registered the copyright according to the statute, whereas a prevailing defendant often must show that a plaintiff’s claims or conduct during the litigation are frivolous or brought in bad faith in order to earn attorney’s fees.

"We are glad to be a part of shaping this court, which has the potential to provide independent creators a constructive method of resolving copyright disputes, as well as to stand up to content bullying,” says Neill. “Special thanks also go to California Western 3L Kyle Welch, one of New Media Rights interns who worked extensively on the comments.”

New Media Rights is a nonprofit program of California Western School of Law that provides free and reduced-fee legal assistance and education to internet users, journalists, and technology and media entrepreneurs. The program also provides unique hands-on training opportunities for California Western students interested in practicing internet and media law, furthering the law school’s commitment to community engagement and pro bono services.