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Research Guides

Copyright Introduction: Copyright Small Claims

Introduction to copyright including exclusive rights, copyright duration, and fair use

The Copyright Claims Board is a new forum for copyright disputes.

The Copyright Claims Board (CCB) is a new forum to decide copyright infringement disputes. This page is for UW faculty, staff, students, and scholars who might one day find themselves in receipt of a notice that a CCB action has been filed against them.

This page does not contain legal advice. It will be updated as more information becomes available.

The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act was signed into law at the end of 2020, and mandated that the U.S. Copyright Office establish the CCB to decide small claims of copyright infringement. The CCB is a lower cost and simplified alternative to the federal court system, which was the only forum for copyright disputes until the CCB began to hear them in June 2022. So now, copyright owners who believe their work has been infringed have a choice: they can file a claim in federal court or in the CCB. As mentioned, the CCB is very new. The U.S. Copyright Office publishes updates about it on its website.

How will the CCB work?

Here are quick facts about the CCB. More information is available at the U.S. Copyright Office website and the CCB website.  

  • The CCB sits within the U.S. Copyright Office.
  • Disputes have these parties:
    • Claimants are rights owners who believe their work has been infringed and file claims with the CCB.
    • Respondents are those who receive notices that they have allegedly infringed claimants’ copyrights.
  • Participation in the CCB is optional for both claimants and respondents.
    • Claimants could pursue their claims in federal court, where it is much more costly to bring a claim.
    • Respondents could opt out of CCB proceedings. (More about that is below.)
  • Damages (the money paid to compensate a claimant) are capped at $15,000 per work with a limit of $30,000 per case.
  • Proceedings will take place remotely and electronically. Claimants and respondents do not have to travel to Washington, D.C., where the CCB is located.
  • Neither party is required to have an attorney, but either one may seek legal counsel.
  • Cases are managed through eCCB, the electronic case management system for the CCB.

How will you know if a claim is filed against you?

To comply with the CASE Act and Washington state law, a claimant must deliver service of initial notice to you in person, leave it with someone over age 18 at your living address, send it to your living address through postal mail, or deliver it to your agent. Note that email is not considered to be a valid service of notice, so be extra cautious if you first learn of an alleged claim against you via email. An initial notice should include: 

  • the identities and contact information for the claimants or their lawyers, if they are using attorneys
  • information about the nature of the claim against you
  • a docket number
  • information about the CCB including its URL and how to use the eCCB to check the status of the claim
  • your options (opting out or responding, both discussed below) and the consequences of each

You may receive a second notice from the CCB as a reminder of the claim. It may arrive via email if the CCB has an email address for you. It should repeat information in the initial notice, including the claimant’s identity, the docket number, instructions how to view the docket using the eCCB system, and information about how to opt out of CCB proceedings online or by mail. 

Neither an initial notice nor a second notice should include any settlement demands or correspondence purporting to show the strength of the claim against you.

What are your options if you receive notice of a claim against you?

Should you receive notice of a CCB claim against you, do not ignore it! You have 60 days to respond.

If you receive a claim related to actions connected to your work at UW, you can request assistance from the UW Attorney General’s Office. The complete procedures are outlined in Executive Order 19. First, act quickly to complete the UW liability claim form, which is also available on the UW Claims Services website. Additionally, tell your immediate supervisor about the claim. You could qualify for legal defense and indemnification from the A.G.'s Office. This standing order explains the conditions of legal protection for UW employees.

If you do nothing, the CCB proceeding will be considered “active” and the claim against you will proceed. You will lose the opportunity to have the dispute decided by a federal court, and you will waive the right to a jury trial. You will be bound by any determination by the CCB, which could include a default judgement of up to $30,000.

You could affirmatively opt-out of the CCB proceeding. This forecloses the CCB as a forum for deciding the claim but does not end the dispute. Should you opt out, the claimant must then decide whether to pursue his or her claim against you in federal court, which is a much more costly and complicated option. The copyright owner could decide not to pursue the claim any further. However, if the claimant does sue you in federal court and ultimately wins, you may have to pay a higher amount than you would have to pay if the claimant won before the CCB. To opt out, you will need to complete and return the paper opt-out form provided with your notice or complete an online opt-out form on the CCB website  within 60 days of receiving the notice.

You could respond to the CCB claim and consent to the streamlined procedures of the CCB. The proceeding against you will then become “active” and the CCB will set the next steps. You will need to file a statement in response to the claim, explaining why you contend you have not infringed the claimant’s copyright and asserting any additional defenses and counterclaims. This should be done within the eCCB system.

Things to keep in mind

The CASE Act and the CCB establish a new forum for copyright infringement disputes as an alternative to the preexisting federal court system. But they do not change the longstanding rights and limitations of U.S. copyright law.

If you receive a notice of a claim against you, this does not mean you have infringed anyone’s copyright. There are many situations when using copyright-protected work is not an infringement. Uses for education, research, and teaching purposes often have strong fair use stances. Some works are not protected at all, or their copyright protection has expired. Each situation should be evaluated individually taking into consideration the work at issue and the circumstances surrounding its use.

If you need media for a project, you can avoid copyright concerns altogether by using works with Creative Commons (CC) licenses. The license terms are simple to understand and follow. No fees or correspondence are necessary. The CC is particularly helpful for photographs. You can find CC licensed works in many places. This guide will get you started.