A four year-old bill that would establish an extra-judicial “small claims court” for copyright disputes is now set to become law after Congressional leaders slipped the measure into the Covid-19 relief and omnibus spending bill headed to President Trump’s desk. In addition, the bill includes a provision that would make illegal streaming a felony.

First introduced in 2016, the CASE Act (Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement) was re-introduced again in 2019. It passed easily in the House, but failed to get to a vote on the Senate floor and was set to die before being dropped into the omnibus spending bill this week (the CASE Act provisions begin on page 77). Among the bill’s provisions is the establishment of a copyright tribunal within the Copyright Office that would hear infringement claims, with awards for claims less than $30,000. Participation would be voluntary—a party served with a claim could opt not to go before the tribunal.

The legislation has been strongly supported by both the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. In a statement, AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante called the bill’s expected passage a “big achievement,” and said the CASE Act “represents years of reasoned analysis, public feedback, and bipartisan leadership on Capitol Hill.”

In a separate statement, Authors Guild leaders also praised the bill. "The CASE Act is a very important win for authors," said Authors Guild president Doug Preston. "It gives them a practical channel for seeking remedies for the violation of their rights. Until now, authors and other creators have had no way to enforce their rights except to bring expensive federal lawsuits. This has left writers with no ability to fight pirates or big companies, who can out-litigate them, for stealing their work.”

While acknowledging that the high cost of litigation can impact copyright holders, critics of the bill maintain that the CASE Act is flawed, and that the system it creates is ripe for abuse by copyright trolls. Critics this week also railed against this kind of complex copyright legislation being jammed last minute into must-pass a 5,000-plus page spending and Covid relief bill.

"The CASE Act purports to be a simple fix to the complicated problem of online copyright infringement. In reality, it creates an obscure, labyrinthine system that will be easy for the big players to find their way out of," notes a post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation who had opposed the bill. "Congress has not heard enough from those of us who would be most affected by CASE: regular, everyday Internet users who could end up owing thousands of dollars."