Challenge to Copyright

United States Supreme Court, photo by skeeze, royalty-free pixabay license
United States Supreme Court, photo by skeeze, royalty-free pixabay license

By Sean Fitzgerald

Did you know that state governments are immune from suit for copyright infringement? In Allen v. Cooper, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that state governments are immune from suit for copyright infringement and that existing statutes eliminating that immunity failed to pass constitutional muster. As a result, state entities now have a free pass when it comes to using the work of a photographer outside of an existing contractual relationship.

This is not a hypothetical situation. For example, the University of Houston took an image by photographer Jim Olive off the internet and used it in multiple publications. Despite his dogged efforts, the University got away with it, quite brazenly. Olive uncovered at least 17 other similar infringements by Texas state entities in the course of his lawsuit.

NANPA has signed amicus briefs on the issue on behalf of Mr. Olive and others and supports efforts to pass new federal legislation correcting the problem. The Copyright Office has also asked for information regarding the experiences of artists who have dealt with state entities in order to determine the scope of the problem.

You can be part of the solution! Every voice counts. Help us gather your user experiences by answering this short survey.

CASE Act Passes!

Thanks to everyone who made their voices heard this week by contacting their Members of Congress and urging them to vote for the C.A.S.E. Act, H.R. 2426.  The good news is that the bill passed the House by a vote of 410 to 6, with 151 co-sponsors.  The not-so-good news is that we’re not done yet. While a similar bill, S. 1723 has passed committee, it still has to pass the full Senate, where a vote is not yet on the schedule.

The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2019, in a nutshell, establishes a copyright small claims court.  Currently, content creators, like photographers, must file copyright violation claims in U.S. District Court, where high fees can exceed damages and make it difficult for small businesses to seek copyright enforcement. 

NANPA has played an active role in the Copyright Alliance, a coalition of creatives advocating for creators’ rights and the CASE Act. For all the details on the Act, how it would work and the issues it addresses, see NANPA’s CASE Act: Copyright Small Claims page.

Thanks for your advocacy to protect photographers’ rights and keep an eye out for information about how you can help get the CASE Act through the Senate.