The Copyright Claims Board (CCB) in the United States has made its first final decision, awarding $1,000 in damages to a photographer for a copyright infringement case. In a judgment on 28 February 2023, the CCB ruled in favour of David Oppenheimer, who had sued a lawyer named Douglas Prutton for using one of his photographs on his website without permission.
The CCB, established in 2021, was designed to provide an alternative and more accessible option for resolving smaller copyright infringement claims of lower value, without the need to hire expensive copyright attorneys. With a cap of $30,000 in damages and a filing fee of only $100 per claim, the forum aims to streamline procedures and provide an online platform for parties to exchange limited information and documents. The Clams Board is accessible to anyone with or without an attorney, with one of its key features being that its procedures are streamlined and can be conducted online. This means that parties are only required to provide limited basic documents and information during proceedings, as opposed to the more complicated and costly process of exchanging evidence in federal lawsuits.
While the CCB may be a positive development for small creators, concerns have been raised that the forum could be exploited by opportunistic copyright holders seeking “easy money” from individuals who may not be well-versed in copyright law. However, the CCB has implemented measures to prevent abuse.
The South African small claims court operates similarly to the CCB, with a threshold of R20,000 for damages claims. However, a comparable forum focused on intellectual property “small claims” disputes could be a beneficial addition to intellectual property dispute resolution in South Africa.
Such a cost-effective and accessible mechanism could level the playing field for individual copyright owners against large corporate entities, who traditionally hold a stronger position in negotiations and business dealings.
By Stefaans Gerber and Khotso Mokitimi