Can a copyright owner enforce his rights in small claims court? The answer varies depending on which side of the 49th parallel you are on. In Canada, yes! In the U.S., no. Perhaps this is about to change. The U.S. Copyright Office is accepting submissions from the public until 16 January 2012 on remedies for copyright infringement suits in small claims courts. U.S. Congress has asked the Copyright Office to investigate and seek comment on how small copyright claims have been managed in the past and to outline recommendations for changes and alternatives to current procedures.
This is not the first time this issue has arisen in the U.S. A report was tabled by the Copyright Office to the U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Congress, 2nd session on March 29, 2006. As part of their investigation of orphan works, the question of alternative mechanisms for pursuing copyright infringement cases was brought forward by photographers who had no resources to sue in federal court. In this report, the U.S. Copyright Office agreed to study the issue and to report to Congress the findings as to whether and to what extent copyright holders have been hindered from pursuing legal action and if the current system is not effective, what changes in law would be necessary. The report also outlined seven topics for information collection and also indicated four alternatives which might be available.
The advantage of small claims court is that it is often speedier than other courts and costs can be minimized since plaintiffs often represent themselves without the aid of a lawyer. You are only eligible to sue in small claims court if the monetary compensation being claimed is within a certain limit. For example, this amount is $25,000 in Ontario.