An Illustrator Explains the CASE Act

John Schmelzer

We would like to introduce you to our guest blogger, Illustrator John P. Schmelzer.

Fellow creators… Yes, that’s you if you create visual art (illustrations, photos, designs, fine art), music (write, perform, or both), and written words (books, articles, poetry, plays). You should be aware that copyright protection is your friend, or at least it should be your friend because it should protect your ownership of your work. It gives your work value and it gives you the right to decide how your work is used and how much someone should pay to use it.

Unfortunately, copyright — the very protection your creations need — has been unavailable to individual artists and creators because the federal court system makes bringing an infringement suit to court too expensive for creators to afford. Lawyers won’t take on a copyright case unless it’s worth at least 30K; and as individuals and small businesses, we are normally facing infringements that involve far lesser amounts. Further, litigation involves time money, and effort to win a case and potentially claim money from an infringer.

This problem has gotten worse over time. When I started as an illustrator in the 1960s, the threat of federal court was enough to make an infringer sit up and take notice, and to (typically) negotiate a settlement of an infringement issue. That is no longer the case because infringement and theft have become a business model for those who steal art and intellectual property at will – because they can.

So what do we do, you ask? There’s an answer and it’s called the CASE Act. In simple language, it’s a small claims court for copyright infringement cases and a fairly simple alternative to federal court. Under the CASE Act, cases are heard by IP attorney-judges who are copyright experts versus “generalists.” In the federal court, lawyers can make motions to delay or continue cases or seek further discovery, adding time and costs to a trial that would bankrupt an individual or small business before the infringement allegation was ever considered. Such burdens will be far less expensive and far less time-consuming under the CASE Act.

I will not go into all of the particulars of the CASE Act because, if interested, you can find it here. But I will tell you that if Congress does not pass this Act we will be left with no viable way to assert our legal claims to our work. And without that ability, the value of what we do goes away. 

The CASE Act is not perfect, but if it becomes law, the infringers and thieves will be put on notice that the wild wild west of creative theft no longer exists.

What can you do as a creator or friend of the creative community? Write your Congressional Representatives and Senators — Professional Photographers of America (PPA) has a portal that makes contact easy; and so does the Copyright Alliance. Use these links to tell your legislators that you support the CASE Act and urge them to co-sponsor and support it too.

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