Copyright Small Claims

Posted on 10/15/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

On September 31, 2013, the Copyright Office released the findings of its two-year study on copyright small claims. The report documents the significant costs and other challenges in the current federal system of addressing copyright claims that have a relatively low economic value. The report recommends the establishment of a Copyright Tribunal housed within the Copyright Office to adjudicate claims.

In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, which requested the report, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante expressed appreciation for the many stakeholders who participated in the Office’s public process and noted the particularly acute impact of small claims issues with respect to individual creators.

Although the Copyright Office recommends a streamlined approach for small claims, it also underscores that “alleged infringers must be allowed to defend themselves vigorously.” The report cites the frustrations of those responding to such claims, who in some circumstances may themselves be smaller actors facing high litigation costs. The full 201 page report can be viewed here.

Some of the issues dealt with in the recommendations include:
    1 – There will be a single tribunal located with the Copyright Office in Washington, DC that will handle all claims.
    2 – To bring an action copyright owners must demonstrate that they have registered their work or filed an application. If the work was not registered prior to infringement damages are limited to $7,500 per work.
    3 – The Small Claims Tribunal is designed for situations when only one of two images are involved. When more images are involved a regular court action may be the most desirable solution.

    4 – Proceedings will be streamlined and conducted through written submissions and telecommunication facilities. Claimants will not have to physically appear before the Tribunal.
    5 – Once a claimant has received a favorable judgement collecting could be a problem. Final determinations could be filed in federal court, if necessary, to ensure their enforceability.
Alicia Calzada of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) has provided a more complete analysis of the report that can be found by clicking here.


The House Judiciary Committee will undoubtedly make changes in the proposed legislation before anything is passed. Then funding will be required and the Tribunal established. It is unlikely that anything will happen quickly, but completion of the report is a good first step.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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