Photographers and other creative individuals in the United States now have a more accessible means of pursuing copyright claims against those using images and works without permission. In a recent round of new laws passed as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, a new Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act (CASE) has been passed after a decade of campaigning by copyright pressure groups. The law introduces a Copyright Claims Board to deal with claims below $30,000 which will make pursuing cases much more cost-effective for individuals and small businesses.

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Photographers have had copyright protection in the U.S. since 1865 but the route to fighting an infringer has been via a federal court, involving substantial costs for legal representation. These costs and the unwillingness of many attorneys to take on cases with a payout of less than $30,000, meant in effect U.S. photographers had astonishingly little copyright protection at all.

The new Copyright Claims Board will allow photographers to file a claim without the assistance of an attorney at all, though one can still be employed if needed or ‘a law student who is qualified under applicable law governing representation by law students of parties in legal proceedings and who provides such representation on a pro bono basis.’ This should make the whole process much less costly for the photographer as well as the person or body the claim is made against.

The process is voluntary on both sides, so either the photographer or the accused can resort to federal court if they chose to, which could still provide a stumbling block when dealing with larger corporations who could use this to push the process beyond the means of the photographer. And of course, as we have seen before, government bodies are beyond the law when it comes to copyright claims as one of the Excluded Claims that the Copyright Claims Board can’t deal with is ‘A claim or counterclaim by or against a Federal or State governmental entity’.

Photographers who have registered their copyright will be able to claim a maximum of $15,000 per image or $30,000 for a claim on multiple images, while those who haven’t registered their copyright will be able to claim $7500 per image or $15,000 for the whole claim.

For more information read from page 2544 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, see the National Press Photographers Association website or the news pages of the Copyright Alliance.