The copyright small-claim alternative, adjudicated by the Copyright Claims Board (CCB), was intentionally designed to accommodate pro se participants, meaning that both claimants and respondents can represent themselves without hiring attorneys. After all, the foundation of small claims court or alternative dispute resolution is to save money. And indeed, we are seeing some early pro se claimants file complaints with the CCB, which began accepting claims on June 16th.
It occurred to me while co-moderating a copyright page on Facebook because, of course, social media encourages a habit of saying or asking everything that comes to mind. But one aspect of legal training the copyright owner/claimants, or for that matter defendants, likely do not have is the discipline to keep mum about an active case. Or at least what should and should not be discussed publicly.
Asking questions or making statements about administrative procedures related to the CCB are safe topics to discuss in public, but parties to a case should remember that it is a legal proceeding with a discovery process. That means anything you say about the facts pertaining to the case itself—including intentions, timelines, beliefs, etc.—may be discoverable and may be entered into evidence by the opposing party. And announcing, griping, gloating, or just describing these matters on social media makes discovery very easy for the opposing party.
This is not to suggest that either claimants or respondents are going to lie or have much to hide of any relevance to a typical CCB case. But if you are a party on either side, it is just good practice to do what an attorney would tell you to do and simply not talk about the case publicly until it’s resolved.
Keeping this discipline could prove difficult for some. Both alleged infringers and anti-copyright ideologues are known to at least insult, if not harass, copyright owners looking to enforce their rights. “Greedy” may be the kindest thing someone calls you, but don’t take the bait, don’t feed the troll, and don’t talk about your case until it’s over. By the same token, if you’re the claimant and you’ve filed a CCB claim, it’s probably not a good idea to also engage in that odd form of digital-age justice generally called “shaming.”
The copyright antagonists want to see the CCB fail. As copyright owners and advocates, we want the small-claim alternative to work, and work in a serious and fair manner grounded in the merits of claims and defenses. As such, both for your own sake and the overall effectiveness of a brand-new system, if you are party to a claim, it’s a good idea to exercise some social media discipline and keep most of the conversation about your case to yourself.