I was pleasantly surprised at all the attention my last blog garnered. Turns out it wasn’t all about my brilliant writing or instant blog fame, but instead it turned out that I had fortuitously written about the idea of a small claims court for copyright infringement right at the same time that the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet was holding a hearing on copyright damages. The idea of a small claims court, which would allow individual songwriters, photographers, and other creators to have a chance at enforcing their copyright claims without going broke over court costs and attorneys’ fees, is to a certain extent tied up in the debate over the appropriateness of statutory damages awards (which would be severely curtained in a small claims setting), but Nancy Wolff said in the hearing, and she was quite right, that the issues were being overly conflated. I’ve watched the proceedings now, and it certainly appears as if the subcommittee is in favor of the idea of at least a pilot small claims court. More interestingly, the subcommittee seemed to think not much of at all of the testimony of the representatives from the Computer and Communications Industry Association or Public Knowledge. Their collective primary argument was that statutory damages are too high and require no proof, and have a chilling effect on innovation. They were also skeptical of the idea of a small claims court, presumably over some (not articulated) fear that the YouTubes of the world would end up in thousands of small claims hearings from individual creators all over the country. The subcommittee was not impressed. (Rep. Collins was particularly dismissive of the CCIA’s assertion that cases in which statutory damages have been particularly high have diminished “the perceived legitimacy of copyright” – if you want to hear him blow Matt Scheurer off, it’s at about 4:40 in the video below)
It certainly struck me that the subcommittee was nearly unanimously in favor of strong copyright protection. They were quite receptive of the Department of Justice proposal to turn criminal copyright infringement into a felony, they liked the idea of a small claims court, and they had no obvious interest at all in lowering statutory damages. I’m not sure yet what effect the recently launched lobbying efforts of Silicon Valley are having in Congress, but it was invisible in this hearing.
Did you watch the hearings? What was your impression?