Congress wants to fine you $30,000 for posting that meme

Lawmakers are trying to slip the CASE Act in a 'must pass' legislature bundle. Experts warn it could be detrimental to internet users.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Federal lawmakers are trying to use underhanded techniques to pass the CASE Act, a controversial copyright-infringement bill, through Congress this week. The legislation would attempt to simplify the copyright takedown process on the internet — and carry fines of up to $30,000 for single offenses.

The CASE Act — that’s the “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement” Act — has been slipped into the spending bill currently being evaluated and voted upon by Congress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports. That spending bill is considered “must-pass” legislation, a designation reserved for only the most pressing of bills, meaning anything included in it has a pretty good chance of becoming law.

The EFF’s main issue with the CASE Act is that it oversimplifies the complexities of copyright infringement. The organization, along with others like Public Knowledge and the Authors Alliance, has advocated against the bill since its first introduction.

Now Congress is hoping to squeeze the controversial CASE Act into an emergency spending bill, thereby avoiding more extended discussions of its implications.

How would this work, exactly? — The CASE Act’s goal is simple: make the processing of small-fry copyright infringement claims more efficient. We’re talking, like, the kind of infringement where some random person tweeted a video with a Harry Styles song over it.

If passed, the CASE Act would create a three-person “Copyright Claims Board” in the federal Copyright Office. This committee would review every small claim filed under the new CASE Act and dole out punishment — no court system necessary. The Copyright Claims Board would have the power to administer fines of up to $30,000.

Extrajudicial measures — The CASE Act attempts to tackle a long-standing problem with copyright; namely, small businesses and artists often do not have the funds to hire legal counsel when they spot copyright infringement of their work. But the way the CASE Act goes about its fix is likely to just create more headaches for the majority of internet users.

EFF worries that it’s “regular, everyday” Internet users who would be most affected by the CASE Act. There’s no judge or jury here; in most cases you can’t file an appeal; it’s just three people with the power to hand out $30,000 finds. For many people, that fine could derail their lives. And thus, the reason lawmakers are attempting to squeeze the CASE Act into “must pass” legislature. Doing so gives it a much better chance of being signed into law, no questions asked.

If you share EFF’s worries and want to communicate them to Congress, EFF has created a guide to doing so here.