Making the Case for the CASE Act at the 2020 Grammys


It’s music’s biggest night, and everyone has an opinion on who should claim the top Grammys. The Recording Academy’s members have already cast their votes, no easy task considering 2019 was a year of sensational talent, old and new.

While the Academy’s members may not agree on the merits of Billie Eilish versus Lizzo, they can agree on this: copyright protection is a right for all creators, and the enforcement of that right is paramount for the future of music. It’s under that decree that the Recording Academy – in lockstep with GIPC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – has endorsed the CASE Act, which currently awaits a vote on the U.S. Senate floor.

In short, the CASE Act fixes a problem musicians have come to know well: creators – like songwriters, sound engineers, and vocalists – have rights, but they can rarely afford to enforce them.

In the United States’ creative ecosystem, an artistic work gains Constitution-dictated copyright protection the moment it’s created, and it can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to guard against potential infringement. In fact, the United States’ copyright system is the strongest in the world, according to the U.S. Chamber 2019 International IP Index.

Still, much of the existing regulation within the United States’ copyright system is skewed to favor creators and companies with the resources and means to exercise their rights. It doesn’t as readily account for emerging, individual creators with fewer resources.

Right now, if you’re a creator seeking retribution for copyright infringement – say, you’re a songwirter, and a company has used your original music in its commercial without license – you have one option: you can litigate in person in federal court. According to the AIPLA, federal litigation will cost you on average more than $200,000 in legal fees. Compare that to the maximum award per infringement you can gain in return under the CASE Act – $750 to $30,000 – and you’ll quickly realize that the system meant to help you is an option for only those who can afford it.

The creative community has worked tirelessly to shed light on this injustice, and the United States Congress has recently taken up the fight themselves. If the CASE Act were signed into law, it would establish an affordable, easy-to-navigate small claims court for copyright infringement and misuse cases. Creators and alleged infringers would represent themselves to the court via online video chat, and they wouldn’t need legal counsel or a law degree to understand the proceedings.

It’s a common-sense, much-needed solution for the small, independent artists that form the backbone of the creative community. That’s why it passed the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly, and has the support of more than 150 co-sponsors on Capitol Hill and countless industry advocates, just like the Recording Academy.

There’s no way to measure exactly how the CASE Act might bolster the impact of existing artists and inspire the impact of new ones. But you don’t have to look further than the Grammys to recognize just how many artists we’re talking about.

In the best song category, there is only one song that is solo-written. Every other song is written by a team of songwriters, each specializing in a different skill: lyrics, structure, musicality, you name it. Next, producers help select and arrange instrumentation, track and record, edit, mix, and master. It’s a huge team effort, even though we usually see just one or two names attached to the finished product.

The CASE Act gives a voice to that often invisible, but increasingly integral creative presence. As we celebrate the gown- and tux-wearing superstars on stage, let’s also celebrate those creators that work behind the scenes of every success. Without them, the road to Grammy gold would be far less traveled.

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