This year, the Copyright Alliance had the opportunity to present a panel at VidCon, where we met a new generation of creators who are making waves in the digital space on sites like YouTube, Daily Motion, Vid.me, Vimeo, and HitRecord. From comedy and parodies, to tutorials, to scripted series and animation, many of these creative entrepreneurs independently write, record, edit, and produce high-quality video content for their viewers week after week—and they have loyal fan-bases to prove it.
One of the great things about the internet is that it has enabled creators all over the world to promote and distribute their work to a potentially worldwide audience. The internet has dramatically decreased many of the barriers to entry associated with creating and distributing content, and cultivating a fan base. And one platform, in particular—YouTube, despite its tumultuous relationship with copyright—has played a significant role in enabling independent creators of vlogs, documentaries, and other visual works, and decreasing those barriers to entry. It was that platform that introduced the world to creators like Issa Rae, Colleen Ballinger, and Tyler Oakley, to name a few, who eventually turned their YouTube followings into lucrative creative careers, securing deals with HBO, Netflix, and Ellen DeGeneres, respectively.
Yet, despite investing countless hours in planning, recording, and editing content—the very investments copyright is designed to encourage and reward—many YouTube creators fail to recognize the value of copyright in protecting their work. Like any other creator, YouTube creators are not immune to copyright infringement. Take freebooting for example. Copyright law also provides protection against this kind of unauthorized copying and distribution.
Some within the YouTube community have also expressed concern about receiving takedown notices falsely alleging copyright infringement. While the notice and takedown process is intended to provide a solution to copyright infringement online there are undoubtedly some “bad actors” who misuse the system on both sides. Many YouTubers are unaware, however, that there’s a provision in U.S. copyright law that allows them to take action against bad actors who cause their video to be taken down by intentionally making a false accusation of copyright infringement.
Now, if you’re a YouTube creator reading this, you might be thinking that’s all fine and well, but I’m not a huge movie studio, I can’t actually afford to sue anyone. If that’s you, unfortunately this is a sentiment you share with all kinds of independent creators. From songwriters, to photographers, to graphic designers, this is a concern we’ve heard time and again, and for good reason: on average, a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court costs nearly $300,000. Most creators, whether on or off YouTube, don’t have that kind of money to spend.
But, fear not! That concern could soon become a thing of the past.
Last month, a bill was introduced in Congress that would allow independent creators to better protect their content. Don’t have a spare $300,000 lying around? No problem! The bill proposes creating a copyright small claims court within the copyright office to allow creators to bring these kinds of lawsuits at a significantly lower cost, likely no more than a couple hundred dollars.
Importantly, copyright infringement isn’t the only type of case that the copyright small claims court could hear. The court could also handle those disputes mentioned above involving bad actors who send DMCA takedown notices based on intentionally false accusations of copyright infringement. In addition, any creator who is accused of copyright infringement could bring a lawsuit for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement, which basically just means asking the court to declare that the accusation is incorrect, and that they are not infringing someone else’s work.
Moreover, the small claims court would be entirely voluntary. If a party would rather forgo the small claims process and take their chances in federal court instead, they have that right. But with the reduced costs and limited liability, parties on both sides have every reason to choose the small claims court when available.
Finally, the proposed small claims process is much less complex than federal litigation, so much so that it would not require the assistance of an attorney. As an alternative, the bill would allow law students in legal clinics—which often operate pro bono—to represent creators under the supervision of an attorney.
The next generation of creators deserves copyright protection that is as pioneering and forward-thinking as they are. They deserve practical solutions to the real-life problems they face as creators. This bill is the first step.
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