ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Op-Ed: Why Creators Like Me Are Lining Up in Support of the CASE Act

Cross-posted from ipwatchdog.com
[by Jenna Close]

It is extremely uncomfortable and difficult to explain to a client that, while I own the copyright to the work I create specifically for their brand, in practice I have no way to pursue unauthorized use of that work.”

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I have heard it said that a right without a remedy isn’t really a right. This saying completely and accurately sums up my experience with copyright infringement in the modern age.

I am not an attorney, let alone a copyright lawyer. I am a small business owner whose livelihood is constantly affected by the lack of reasonable avenues for pursuing infringement of my work.

For more than a decade, I have been making my living as a commercial photographer and filmmaker. During that time I have witnessed my works infringed online—an exceedingly easy thing to do in the digital age—but also in print. A most memorable example of this was finding my photo enlarged as the backdrop to a competitor’s trade show booth while my paying client was rightfully using the same artwork across the room at their own booth. An act like this is both unlawful and egregious. But the extraordinary costs of pursuing a copyright infringement suit in federal court prohibit me from seeking recourse this way without taking on the additional risk of bankruptcy.

Devaluing Creativity and Damaging Reputations

The inability to defend against infringement does damage beyond the loss of potential income (which in and of itself is no small thing). Infringement actually degrades my standing as a professional and lowers the value of my services. It takes something I produce as a custom product for a paying client and renders it free without consequences to any other company who uses it. I have little reasonable recourse to pursue these companies because my only option is to hire an attorney and file suit in federal court—an option that I and so many men and women like me cannot afford. And trust me, many of these infringers know that.

It is extremely uncomfortable and difficult to explain to a client that, while I own the copyright to the work I create specifically for their brand, in practice I have no way to pursue unauthorized use of that work. That devalues both my client’s investment in my product as well as my reputation. Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands of photographers, songwriters, authors and many other creators in business today, and you see the impact this has on a significant portion of working class-citizens.

The Case Act: A Lifeline for Creators

What I need, what I am asking for, and what the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act would help accomplish, is a more affordable and less complex legal process in which hiring an attorney is optional. Let’s take this bill for what it really is: it finally provides small business people with a real opportunity to seek recompense for infringements of their creative works. It is not a predetermined declaration of liability, which means I may win some cases and I may lose some. I am completely fine with that; that is the justice system as it should be and would be orders of magnitude better than the way the system presently works.

I am not in a position to risk the money and time to pursue infringements in federal court. This option is not a remedy for me. I am an independent businesswoman and, while I provide a service that is valuable to the economy of this country, I do not have the resources to dedicate to an endeavor of that scale. I am not alone in this. If you are reading this, I ask you to please support the rights of myself and others who are making their living in full realization of the American Dream by doing what they love, working for themselves, providing a valuable service to others higher up the economic food chain. Please show your support for the CASE Act by writing your Senators and Representatives to urge them to support the bill. Help give us a chance to defend our Constitutional right and our livelihoods.

Jenna Close is the Director of Photography at Buck the Cubicle, based in Southern California. She is also the Past-Chair of the National Board of the American Society of Media Photographers.

 

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