Ever had your images used by someone without permission? Either posted on a website, printed on a T-shirt for sale or used in any way to make money that you had no part in? Yeah, me as well. A new law is in effect with a way to fight back that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.


The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement — known as the CASE Act — has been signed into law. This provides the ability of photographers and other artistic creators to have the chance to get relief through a small claims court when their work is misappropriated.

Or, let’s call it what it is — theft.

The CASE Act was brought about because filing a copyright suit had to be done in federal court and the minimum cost to do so was upward of $30,000. Most infringement claims for photographers come to about $1,500 to $3,000. When approached by photographers for infringement payment many businesses laughed and said, “So sue me!”

Professional Photographers of America (PPA) CEO David Trust shared, “This changes everything for small creators. The CASE Act is now law. It is a reality that is still sinking in for a lot of us. There will now be a small claims tribunal for small creators, and they will have the same protections afforded to every other American business. The playing field has finally been leveled.”

Story of perseverance

Two words. Seven letters. Over 10 years. Thousands of hours of meetings. Professional photographers of America took the lead and was a driving force in getting Congress to approve the small claims tribunal. During that time, PPA members wrote thousands of letters and made phone calls to their representatives asking for support. “It is exciting to see what our organization and its members can do when we set our mind to something,” said Gregory Daniel, PPA President.

Learning about legislation

In following this story I learned quite a bit about how legislation gets through the system. It ain’t easy by any stretch! First you need to convince someone in Congress that this is a worthwhile idea. Enough so that they would be willing to work hard toward convincing other legislators to co-sponsor the bill. Without lots of agreement along the way things die before they ever even get to committee.

PPA members along with other small creator organizations worked to lobby legislators.

Stories by PPA to keep members contacting their legislators during the process.

Once the law passes through committee and lots of rewriting it needs to be co-sponsored with even more legislators. Then it needs to be called to the floor for a vote. And, it needs to pass. Then it’s off to convince the Senate that the bill is a worthy one. Even then, one Senator can keep the bill from going before the Senate for a vote. See my Photofocus article for more on that.

Last stops

If the bill doesn’t pass the Senate and get signed into law during the final legislative term then it’s back to the drawing board and starting much of the process over again from the beginning. Fortunately, the bill was put up for a vote as part of a larger group of bills.

In this case since it was being held from a vote on the floor the bill was added into an Omnibus bill including Covid-19 relief. When that bill was passed the copyright bill was passed as well.

I personally would have liked the bill to have come to a floor vote in the Senate. But, I’m glad that the legislation is passed giving creators a reasonable chance of having redress from theft of work.

How the CASE Act will work — short version

Instead of having to file a federal lawsuit, photographers will be able to bring their infringement claims before a Copyright Claims Board within the U.S. Copyright Office— this will be a three-member panel of experts in copyright law. The panel would be able to award photographers as much as $15,000 per work and $30,000 per claim, if the works are registered with the office. For unregistered photos, photographers would only be eligible for $7,500 per work and $15,000 per claim. In addition to monetary penalties, the board could also send the infringer a notice to cease the infringement. Larger claims would still have to go through federal court.

As the tribunal comes into existence I’ll be following up. In the meantime you might want to learn how to register your images with the copyright office.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob