By Emmanuel Legrand
The US Register of Copyright Karyn Temple has strongly endorsed the the possibility of a small claims tribunal within the Copyright Office (USCO) during her testimony at a hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary at the House of Representatives on June 26.
Temple said that the the USCO has been looking at the possibility to create an alternative forum for individual creators and small businesses for already some time. She added that because of the high costs of litigation, many individual artists and small businesses are often precluded from getting into federal court to protect their rights.
Temple explained in her written testimony that the median cost to litigate a copyright infringement suit with less than $1 million at stake was estimated at $200,000. Temple added that this situation meant that "low‐dollar but still valuable copyrighted works often may be infringed with impunity."
Need for remedies
"Having a right without a remedy means that you have no right at all," she said during her testimony, noting that the costs were way above what most creators or small businesses could afford. "That's why we strongly support the creation of a copyright claims for it," said Temple.
Temple said the small claims tribunal should sit within the USCO, with officers recommended by the Register of Copyrights and appointed by the Librarian of Congress. Participation to the tribunal should be voluntary and with a streamlined discovery process. Damages should be capped at $30,000 per claim, with a sub-limit of $15,000 per work. Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins said such endeavour should be "do-able and that's something that would really work."
Temple was also questioned by the Chair of the Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler, about the issue of unclaimed royalties, which is one of the key challenges that the Music Modernisation Act is supposed to fix. "The most important aspect of MMA is that songwriters and publishers get paid for their work," said Temple who added that she was "very pleased" that both submissions to operate the Music Licensing Collective to manage mechanical rights have made this issue "one of their priorities."
Identifying best practices
Temple said that right after the designation on July 8 of the entity operating the MLC, the USCO will start working on a report on best practices that will be given to Congress and to the MLC in July 2021. "[The MLC] is expected to follow the best practices that the Copyright Office provides in that report," said Temple.
She added, "Additionally, we were pleased that both the entities that want to be designated as the MLC have agreed that the first distribution of unclaimed royalties cannot occur until 2023. This will give the designated entity an opportunity to ensure that they have good practices in place to make sure they can distribute to the most people and that they have the less amount of unclaimed funds."