How can we protect ourselves in a transforming industry, as art is becoming more and more independent? The CASE Act is part of a new and changing world for small and independent creators.
A new world of art and creation has presented itself in recent years and opened up the doors to creatives of all shapes and sizes. Now that we can carve out our own destinies without relying on large companies or big money it’s more important than ever we know to protect and cover ourselves.
I spoke to Jessica Sobhraj, the CEO of a company that is helping small creators to legally protect their creations with as little expense and hassle as possible. We spoke on what they’re doing for creators at her company Cosynd and the potentially revolutionary CASE Act which they’re helping to propose to the US government.
At Cosynd they are making the process of creating agreements and registering copyrights simple and accessible for people without the access to expensive resources or insider knowledge of how to best cover themselves.
“I came from the sync licensing world,” Jessica told me. “ So on a daily basis my job would be clearing rights for film and TV and talking to all these artists about what their split sheet situation was. And many of them didn’t have one.”
For those who don’t know, Split Sheets are an agreement between collaborators clarifying their contributions. It ensures that their percentages and any ownership are down in writing.
It’s commonplace in the industry but with the thriving emergence of small creators, thanks in large part to the internet; many people who aren’t always aware of steps they can/should take or who think that it’s beyond their assets let it slide by. But an artist’s popularity, access to resources, or funds shouldn’t dictate whether they take the important steps to protecting their work.
“The reason many of them didn’t have [split sheets] was because they thought it was too expensive, that you needed an attorney to create a one page document that you and I could create on the back of a pizza box…
“I had been in the industry for 10 years at that point and I probably said the cheesiest words that any entrepreneur could possibly say:
Jessica was President of Women in Music at the time and with two others from the non-profit they started Women in Music. Everyone on Cosynd’s “small but effective” team had worked directly with creators as attorneys or in artist services so they knew personally the issues facing creatives.
Cosynd built their service making it simple for music creators to fill out split sheets and ensure they’re in order to truly set out how the copyright is divided and who has permissions to license and sell the copyright legally. They expanded to cover creators at large by making their split sheets applicable for video, images, and documents.
As the creators were coming in and their services expanded their partners asked: “Hey, you already have the pipes for copyright registration. Could you just build that out for our users too?”
And so, they now automate filings with the Copyright Office when creators fill in the applications with Cosynd. Jessica notes: “I think so far we’re the only ones in the music industry that are really doing it.”
The CASE Act
What Jessica and the team do at Cosynd is to make the resources available and assured for small creators. As the power dynamic within the creative industries shifts away from major entities and towards creators working independently or on smaller scales, these kinds of up-starts are vital.
The CASE Act is currently making it’s way through Congress that has the potential to completely change people’s abilities to fight copyright infringements in court. Cosynd have been major advocates of the Act and with backing from the likes of the NMPA, Songwriters Guild and the Association of Photographers it’s starting to truly gain traction.
The Senate version of the bill passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. This month it passed the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee to be put to a vote before the end of the year.
So what exactly is the CASE Act proposing?
The CASE Act, the Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement Act, looks to set up an entirely new small claims court for copyright lawsuits. Three judges would govern the new court and it would completely open up the routes to taking action when you can’t afford an attorney or have the time to go through a drawn out court case.
“That’s been the barrier, I think, for a lot of creators; they thought, ‘hey this is no problem, I’ll just file a lawsuit’ and then once they realise the true economic bearings of that – it’s a fairly expensive fight,” Jessica told me.
“Some attorneys won’t even take on your case if you don’t have an ironclad case because there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually win, no guarantee you will actually get paid.”
If the CASE Act gets passed into legislation then anyone could take their case to the new court as long as their work is registered with the Copyright Office. It would limit the damages you can receive, only in that court, but overall the potential savings and the vastly easier access to making your claim more than balance it out.
“It’s a far quicker timeline. It’s less expensive and it’s just a faster way of getting on with life as opposed to federal cases which could drag out and cost way more,” adds Jessica.
As me and Jessica touched on briefly in our talk, the CASE Act is very similar to a proposal that came before. So what stopped it before?
Jessica says that a lot of it is awareness, especially amongst the creators it would help and the organisations that work with and for them. But as the bill makes its way to a vote this year with support from both sides, it has gained significantly more traction amongst the music community.
“But still a lot of creators and a lot of rights holders aren’t aware of it and that’s why we’re really working with organisations like the Copyright Alliance. I’m trying to educate our community as much as possible because this is going to be a game changer for them.”
How can people show their support to try and get the CASE Act legislated?
Jessica says: “There are many ways that you can do so and the Copyright Alliance is a great place to start. They have a great tool where anyone in the US can contact their local representative and express their support through social media, through direct email or providing the telephone number to call.”
Back in 2012 a similar Small Claims Track was launched in England and Wales to resolve low-value copyright infringement cases. There was a clear barrier to resolving these issues for the proliferation of copyright-able creations and so the new route for claims was created.
The CASE Act could be monumental in the changing music industry in the US and further creative landscape to ensuring that creators have the same rights and protections no matter how big or small they are.
“This thing you put so much time and effort into creating and you can actually protect it. That’s a huge deal,” closed Jessica.
I agree, that is a huge deal.