Copyright and risk: upping the ante?

The US Copyright office has recently issued a paper, Priorities and Special Projects of the United States Copyright Office. The paper outlines some areas that the office will be working in over the next two years. One of these projects has already resulted in a “white paper” on the mass digitization of copyrighted books. Although this piece of work is receiving a lot of attention, I’m more curious about another strand of planned work, a study on a “small claims solutions for copyright owners.” From the paper:

Copyright law affords a bundle of exclusive rights to authors, including the rights to
reproduce, distribute, publicly display, and publicly perform their creative works, or
license others to do so. However, these rights are meaningless if they cannot be enforced.
As the ease of infringement has risen, so too has the cost of federal litigation. At the request
of Congress, the Copyright Office is conducting a study regarding alternative means of
resolving copyright infringement claims when such claims are likely to involve limited
amounts of monetary relief.

[More information here]

I worry that creating a means to more easily sue for infringement will have a negative impact on institutions who are considering digitizing materials held in special collections, using a risk management approach (as described in the Well-Intentioned Practice document). Since the study won’t be completed until 2013, it’s too early to worry. However, it’s not too early to formulate a response! Those are due January 26, 2012, which is right around the corner.