Small claims court good for photographers

01 April 2015

Region: Headquarters

I represented The Society at a meeting last month to discuss the work of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court Small Claims Track. This court is set up to hear cases involving some aspects of intellectual property (including copyright) where the amount in dispute is £10 thousand or less. This is considered to be a small sum in this context. The IPEC Small Claims Track is analogous to the small claims county court in that it has an informal style without the need for parties to be represented and with limited financial cost and risk.

Individual photographers were a key intended 'market' for this court, although it's the cases that are small not necessarily the participants. In fact, if I heard correctly, most cases so far have involved illegal playing of music in business premises, but there are several photographers who have successfully sued for damages as a result of copyright infringment.

At the meeting we heard from some of the judges who sit in the court (and nice and approachable they were too), together with Gwen Thomas of the AOP and a photographer who has brought cases before the court and was very happy to have done so.

In principle, if you are a photographer whose images have been used without your licence or consent, you can use the court to claim for the fees you would reasonably have been paid had the alleged infringer taken out a licence. In exceptional circumstances, for example a reckless serial infringer, the award might be more, but in general the idea is to put you in the financial position you would have been in had the infringment not happened.

At the moment we can't read details of the judgements simply because the court doesn't have the resources to publish them, but hopefully that will change. The court is also hoping to be able to hear cases by electronic means as well as in person, which will be very helpful for photographers based well away from London.

The Justice Department has published a guide to the court, which is on the justice.gov.uk web site.

Update: The 1709 copyright blog has reported on an IPEC small claims case where the infringed photographer received a 500% 'Flagrancy uplift' plus costs and may well have set the current record for this court. Read the report here.

Andy Finney is The Society's representative on the British Copyright Council