Arthur is a New York City-based illustrator and an established professional, with clients from major fashion and cosmetics lines, publishing houses, and theater productions. His agent negotiated a contract for Arthur to create the artwork for a Broadway musical. The contract entitled the production company to use his artwork for a wide range of uses for their New York City run, as well as for any tours of their production. The musical was success, and Arthur saw his artwork appear on posters and t-shirts around New York City. He also monitored the production company’s website and saw that the musical – and his beautiful artwork – went on national and international tours.
A year later, Arthur did an Internet search for his artwork, curious to see if the original production was still touring. His search led him to discover that his work was being used in independent productions by small local theaters around the country and even overseas. Arthur started to contact these theaters to find out where and how they obtained his illustration. They reported that they had properly licensed the illustration as part of a licensing package – from an entirely different production company!
It took Arthur hours of research to discover that his original client had included his illustration, and all of the collaterals it appeared in, as a package they licensed to another company; that company, not realizing they didn’t have the right to use the artwork, licensed the production to small theaters. This was in direct violation of Arthur’s license. When he contacted his original client, they told him he should back off or they would blacklist him in the very small world of theater production, telling him “You’re committing career suicide.”
Arthur didn’t back down, but he faced additional obstacles. Although he wanted to hire a New York City-based lawyer to represent him in negotiating with the company, he couldn’t find someone to take the case. He eventually found a lawyer in the mid-West who was able to negotiate a settlement with the client. However, to keep the legal costs affordable, Arthur did much of his own research, spending approximately 60 hours in tracking down the infringements and documenting every communication. The settlement was far lower than what he originally asked for, but without the wherewithal and funds to proceed with an infringement lawsuit, he agreed to it.
Even though his case was settled, Arthur feels that a copyright small claims tribunal would have helped him significantly. A small claims tribunal such as that described by the CASE Act doesn’t require illustrators like Arthur to hire lawyers and spend considerable sums of money to get clients to take them seriously. In fact, Arthur feels that if such a tribunal existed, his client wouldn’t have been so quick to ignore his license to begin with.
Arthur’s experience tells the story of countless U.S. creators, who currently have rights but no remedies when it comes to protecting their works. With federal court being both complex and expensive, most creators don’t have the means to defend their creations from a legal perspective. That’s why they need the CASE Act, legislation that calls for the establishment of a small claims tribunal within the U.S. Copyright Office. Learn more about the CASE Act here, and how it would benefit creators across the country. Then, send a letter urging your elected officials to support the CASE Act here. It’s quick and easy to do!