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Sweeping new copyright measures poised to pass in spending bill

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The CASE Act and a felony streaming proposal are included

Pelosi And Schumer Speak To Press On COVID-19 Stimulus And Omnibus Spending Bills Photo by Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

On Monday, congressional leaders unveiled their massive spending and coronavirus relief measure, including a handful of controversial copyright measures civil liberties activists fear could penalize internet users for everyday online behavior. Congress is expected to vote on the package as early as Monday.

Congress’ $2.3 trillion spending and relief package includes controversial measures previously introduced as the CASE Act, the Trademark Modernization Act, and a felony streaming proposal — all significantly expanding the rights and powers of intellectual property owners.

Most controversially, the CASE Act would create a quasi-judicial tribunal of “Copyright Claims Officers” who would work to resolve infringement claims. As outlined in the bill, copyright holders could be awarded up to $30,000 if they find their creative work being shared online.

Proponents of the CASE Act, like the Copyright Alliance, argue that the bill would make it easier for independent artists to bring about copyright claims without having to endure the lengthy and expensive federal courts process. Still, critics of the bill, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, argue that the CASE Act could fine ordinary internet users for engaging in everyday online behavior like sharing memes.

“The CASE Act is a terribly written law that will threaten ordinary Internet users with huge fines for everyday online activity. It’s absurd that lawmakers included these provisions in a must-pass spending bill,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement Monday. “We’re facing a massive eviction crisis and millions are unemployed due to the pandemic, but Congressional leaders could only muster $600 stimulus checks for COVID relief, but managed to cram in handouts for content companies like Disney?”

The multitrillion-dollar package also includes a provision authored by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) that would allow the Justice Department to charge businesses for felony copyright infringement if they intentionally stream copyrighted material online. The Trademark Modernization Act would allow third parties to request the Patent Office to reject trademark applications in an effort to combat “trademark trolls” who make money off of trademarks they never planned to use.

As congressional leaders have worked to finalize this package over the last few weeks, a coalition of tech trade groups and advocacy organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Internet Association urged lawmakers to refuse inclusion of these measures.

These groups claimed that the proposals could “have negative impacts on small- and medium-sized businesses, creators, libraries and their patrons, students, teachers, educational institutions, religious institutions, fan communities, internet users, and free expression,” in a letter first reported by Protocol earlier this month.