We need to change the way courts deal with copyright cases
Last week, the Copyright Review Committee presented its report, Modernising Copyright, at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. Throughout the report the committee acknowledges the importance of balancing the competing interests of rights-holders and end-users.
Equally, however, procedural issues regarding how disputes will be managed under the proposed system were to the fore. On this point the committee makes three proposals: the introduction of a new intellectual property (IP) track in the District Court; a new specialist IP Circuit Court; and the creation of an alternative dispute resolution procedure to be overseen by the proposed Copyright Council of Ireland.
In Ireland the District Court Small Claims procedure, which is conciliatory in nature, provides a fast and inexpensive (€25) way for consumers to resolve disputes without the need to employ a solicitor. The District Court Small Claims Registrar (and not a judge) hears the complaint and then makes a recommendation to the parties concerned. The recommendation is non-binding and either party may take their case to the District Court proper. Presently the Small Claims procedure places an economic limit of €2,000 on claims, however section 15 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous provisions) Act 2013 has extended the monetary jurisdiction of the court to €15,000 and the committee is of the view that this should also apply to IP claims brought before the Small Claims procedure.
The committee’s proposal to include intellectual property disputes within this procedure could go a long way to eliminating cost barriers that have effectively precluded both creators and users of content from defending their rights.
In addition the committee recommends that a specialist intellectual property court be established in the Circuit Court along the lines of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (formerly the Patent County Court) in the UK. In light of section 14 of the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013, the committee recommends extending the monetary limits of Circuit Court IP claims to €75,000.
A chief concern when extending the jurisdiction of any court or tribunal centres upon the competencies and capabilities of that court or tribunal to fulfil that role. The committee addresses the need for training and resources should such a system be introduced but it is questionable whether this would suffice.
Intellectual property disputes are renowned for their complexity and time-consuming nature. To demand Small Claims Registrars, who primarily deal with consumer disputes, to pronounce upon the validity of, for example, plant variety patents or whether fair use/fair dealing exemptions apply may prove overwhelming.