The United States Copyright Claims Board (CCB), an administrative tribunal that has been established for the purposes of resolving small copyright claims, began accepting case filings on June 16, 2022. Eight months later, it has issued its first two determinations. Here is a summary of them.
Flores v. Mitrakos, 22-CCB-0035
This was a DMCA case.
Michael Flores filed the claim against Michael Mitrakos. He alleged that Mitrakos filed a knowingly false takedown notice. The parties negotiated a settlement. On February 3, 2023 they submitted a joint request for a final determination dismissing the proceeding. It included a request to include findings that the respondent submitted false information in a takedown notice, resulting in the wrongful removal of the claimant’s material. The parties also agreed the respondent would inform Google that he was rescinding the takedown notice. The CCB incorporated the parties’ agreement into its final determination.
No damages were sought and the CCB did not award any.
Issued on February 15, 2023, this was the CCB’s first Final Determination. You can read it here.
Oppenheimer v. Prutton, 22-CCB-0045
While Flores v. Mitrakos was the first Final Determination the CCB issued, Oppenheimer v. Prutton was its first Final Determination on the merits. It is also the first copyright infringement case the Board has resolved.
The case involved alleged infringement of a copyright in a photograph. The facts, as reported in the CCB’s Final Determination, are as follows:
David G. Oppenheimer owns the copyright in a photograph he took of a federal building in Oakland, California. He registered the copyright in the photograph on July 29, 2017. On June 4, 2018, he discovered it was being displayed on the business website of attorney Douglas A. Prutton. Prutton admitted reproducing and displaying it without permission. He stated that his adult daughter found it on the Internet and put it on his website, in an effort to help improve his website, and that he removed it in 2019 upon receiving a letter from Oppenheimer objecting to the use. Oppenheimer sought an award of statutory damages for the unauthorized use of the photograph.
Prutton asserted two defenses: fair use and unclean hands.
The asserted defenses
A person asserting fair use as a defense must address and discuss four factors: (1) purpose and character of the use; (2) nature of the work; (3) amount and substantiality of the portion copied; and (4) effect on the market for the work. Prutton only addressed the fourth factor. The failure to address the first three factors, the CCB ruled, was fatal to this defense.
Prutton alleged that Oppenheimer was a copyright troll, earning revenue mostly from copyright litigation rather than from sales or licensing of his works. The CCB ruled that this is not a sufficient basis for a finding of unclean hands.
The CCB refused to reduce damages to $200 on the basis of “innocent infringement.” The CCB ruled that Prutton should have known the photograph was protected by copyright, emphasizing the fact that he was an attorney.
Oppenheimer requested statutory damages of $30,000. The CCB is limited by statute to awarding no more than $15,000 per work. The Board therefore construed it instead as a request for the maximum amount the Board can award. The CCB declined to award maximum damages.
While the amount of statutory damages does not have to be tied to the amount of actual damage, an award of statutory damages “must bear a plausible relationship to . . . actual damages.” Stockfood Am., Inc. v. Sequoia Wholesale Florist, Inc., 2021 WL 4597080, at *6 (N.D. Cal. June 22, 2021). Oppenheimer did not submit evidence of actual loss.
In the absence of any evidence of actual damage or harm, statutory damages will normally be set at $750 per work infringed. One member of the Board voted to do just that in this case. The other two members, however, believed a small increase from the minimum was justified for various reasons, such as that it was a commercial use and it had lasted for more than a year. The Board ultimately awarded Oppenheimer $1,000 statutory damages.
You can read the CCB’s Final Determination here.
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