Thank Goodness for Small Claims

by Darcey Quigley on December 12, 2012

When we think of intellectual property rights in England and Wales we generally conjure up images of corporate titans either hurling legal thunderbolts at each other like Apple and Samsung, or of corporate titans gleefully crushing pitiable citizens underfoot like the BPI versus … well, everybody, apparently. Prior to very recently there was no track available for individual or small-business intellectual property owners to pursue rights violation cases. With the Digital Economy Act still slumbering, any rights violations had to be pursued through the courts, requiring specialist law firms and bags of money, which basically restricted such claims to the mega-sized corporations.

However, it looks like Hargreaves Review of 2011 is actually having a beneficial effect on intellectual property procedures in England and Wales, as a small claims track has been established at all Patent Country Courts, designed to hear IP violations claims with awards limited to £5,000. This gives the individual and small business their first legitimate tool with which to fight small time IP theft or rights violations. As a small-claims procedure it’s even possible that in very simple cases a solicitor would not even be necessary, though of course hiring an IP specialist may still be advisable.

This is key as we move squarely into the Social Media and File Sharing age. Increasingly, artists are putting their work online with expansive licensing such as the varieties of Creative Commons licenses, granting broad distribution and even modification rights while retaining copyright. This means that an increasing number of individual artists or small-time entrepreneurs running tiny all-digital record labels or eBook publishing houses have placed their works right out in the open, protected (usually) only by their licensing language. The possibility for abuse is therefore very real, and having a small-claims track with which to pursue such cases is vital.

It should be noted that the evidence standards are not lessened in small-claims court, and proving individuals are connected to specific infringing IP addresses and similar log-based evidence has proven to be difficult even for the big players in the IP field. As a result there should be little fear that this will turn into an easily abused weapon, causing chaos. Even individuals will need to think twice before initiating a claim, but at least if they do decide to pursue it they will not be beggared by the process, and they will have some hope of a resolution in their lifetimes.

There is also some hope that the existence of this new track will weaken attempts to enact even tougher measures than those spelled out in the odious Digital Economy Act, set to finally awaken and wreak havoc in 2014. The thinking is, if people are successfully combating IP theft with small-claims tracks, there may be no need to make the DEA even worse than it already is. Naturally, of course, those who support the DEA don’t think it’s bad to begin with, and read “worse” as “stronger,” so this may not have any effect at all. Time will tell.

Mark Darcey is the owner and director of Darcey Quigley, an independently owned company specialising in small business debt recovery.

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