England and Wales have a new ‘small claims track’ at the Patent County Courts, simplifying the process for copyright owners who want to take action against others who they believe have infringed their rights – and whilst this may well involve commercial disputes, a number of commentators have pointed out that the Court could hear civil cases against individual suspected file-sharers. The main limit to the court’s jurisdiction is the usual cap for damages for small claims which cannot exceed £5,000.
The move, which can trace its recent history back to the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property, means copyright claims can be dealt with in a swifter, less formal and cost effective manner and certainly at least partially addresses the concerns of some small businesses – photographers, illustrators, cartoonists and some designers all spring to mind, who had no real way of protecting their rights due to prohibitive costs. The new system also provides an alternative to the still partially dormant Digital Economy Act, which when (or if) implemented will provide a ‘three strikes’ regime in the UK, although as yet the ‘third strike’ is undecided, meaning such small claims litigation might well be a viable sanction for rights owners until parliament revisits the legislation.
Michael Fallon MP, the Business Minister, said: “Small firms, whose intellectual property has been infringed, will have today a simpler and easier way to take their cases forward, by writing direct to the judge and setting out the issues. Lower legal costs will make it easier for entrepreneurs to protect their creative ideas where they had previously struggled to access justice in what could often be an expensive progress. A smarter and cheaper process is good for business and helping businesses make the most of their intellectual property is good for the economy”. Interestingly Peter Bradwell from the Open Rights Group supported the move saying “A less costly and complex route to justice is another important step towards intellectual property laws that are fit for the digital age. A small claims track will mean creators can access justice more easily when their rights are infringed. And it should help consumers defend themselves against lower value infringement claims”.
More on this in the ISP Review here http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2012/10/small-claims-track-makes-court-best-for-handling-uk-internet-piracy-cases.html