Copyright Small Claims court is here!
THE SMALL Claims copyright court is up and running - and the NUJ launched its effort to get members ready to enforce their intellectual property rights with a seminar fronted by barrister Isabel Jamal and Kate Fox, specialist at Thompsons, lawyers to the NUJ. This Small Claims "track" of the Patents County Court (eventually to be renamed the Intellectual Property ditto) enables freelances to pursue claims worth up to £5000 - a limit due to rise to £10,000 soon.
The existence of the Small Claims copyright court is a testament to the lobbying of the NUJ Freelance Office and the Creators' Rights Alliance since the 2006 Gowers Review of copyright. "For too long, members suffering infringement of copyright on a small scale have been deprived of any realistic access to justice," said NUJ Freelance Organiser John Toner, speaking after the seminar. "Not only does this deprive freelances of income that is rightfully theirs, but there has been the additional frustration of seeing infringers getting away with it. This is why we have campaigned long and hard for a small claims procedure. We also hope that once the court has ruled on some cases it will begin to be a deterrent."
Previously, the mainstream small-claims courts had deemed copyright too complex for their informal procedures to resolve. This left small claimants to sue through Patents County Court - risking costs up to £50,000 should they lose. The fee for issuing a small claim range from £25 for a claim up to £300 filed at www.moneyclaim.gov.uk to £120 for a claim up to £5000 filed on paper. Costs claimable by the winner are limited, with legal advice capped at £260, loss of earnings at £90 a day: hearings rarely last more than a day.
"The new system has its difficulties," Toner added. "Its jurisdiction is England and Wales and... cases will be heard only in London at present. Another difficult aspect is the prescribed Letter Before Action. It's very demanding, and a case could falter if it is not adhered to."
So members who think their work has been nicked are recommended to talk to John Toner or Assistant Freelance Organiser Pamela Morton, who can shepherd them through the process, in consultation with the Union's legal department if necessary: email via firstname.lastname@example.org - and HM Courts Service has a guide at http://patentssmallclaims.notlong.com.
- There's now apparently a cross-border European small claims procedure (http://tinyurl.com/claimseurope) for claims of up to €2000. Please let the Freelance know if you have had any experience of using this, or of enforcing its judgements.