Small Claims on track
THE FINAL hurdle on the route to a "Small Claims Track" in the courts, that can deal with copyright claims, has been crossed. On 26 March the government published its response to a final consultation exercise - and agreed with practically everything the NUJ had said.
The proposal originated (as far as we know) within the NUJ in the autumn of 2006, as Freelance Organiser John Toner and Freelance editor Mike Holderness discussed responses to the Gowers Review - the last-but-one review of copyright law. We noted the case of a member who had successfully claimed £400 damages - but was ordered to pay £2000 toward the defendant's costs. The Court was annoyed at being bothered with, in its terms, a small claim.
We understand informally that the Small Claims track will open for business this autumn, as a part of what is currently called the "Patents County Court". Six years from inception to installation isn't bad for the UK legal system.
It will work pretty much identically to the Small Claims procedure for non-copyright cases. Initially, it will handle claims up to £5000 - an increase to £10,000 is expected in 2013. Fees start at £30 for claims up to £300 and generally there's no risk of being lumbered with the other side's legal costs - though the losing side may be ordered to pay witness travel fees. Initially, the "money claim online" process will not be available.
Legal representation from a solicitor is not required: the NUJ can advise members on bringing claims and may be able to send someone as a "litigation friend" - this is someone who can help you present the case in court. Note that the NUJ will not advise anyone on cases that arose prior to their membership: tell all your colleagues that it's best to join the union now.