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Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on The CASE Act

Roadtrip Recap: The Guild on Capitol Hill

As Advocacy Liaison, one of my activities is joining other artist advocates on Capitol Hill for visits with members of Congress and staffers. The Guild is one of the few lobbying organizations representing designers and illustrators, (the other associations are predominantly photographers’ groups), making our presence particularly critical, since we offer a unique perspective on pending legislation. When it became clear about a month ago that the Senate would be marking up S. 1237, The CASE Act, we decided it was important to send as many creators as possible to DC. That meant I finally got to invite other Guild members to join me in the heady, exhausting experience of lobbying on Capitol Hill!

My call to Guild leadership was answered by a great crew: Yanique DaCosta (Southern Region Rep and ico-D Rep), Liz DiFiore (New England Rep), and Dawn Mitchell (National Board Member). I couldn’t have asked for better representation from our diverse membership: Yanique is a fine artist, educator and designer; Liz is a budding children’s book illustrator; and Dawn is a graphic designer. I also recognized what a valuable gift their participation was. As exciting as a lobbying visit to DC sounds, the unvarnished truth is that the four of us, to meet our minimal budget, shared one large hotel room with one small bathroom.

Prepping to Lobby

As the meetings were due to start first thing on Wednesday, July 17th, the Guild crew gathered in DC the afternoon before. That gave us the opportunity to go over the specifics of The CASE Act, and plan the key points we wanted to make to Members of Congress. Both Dawn and Yanique have seen their work infringed; they could make very direct appeals on why The CASE Act mattered so much to them. Liz and I brought the perspective of artist advocates who, as part of our duties, monitor reports of infringement we see across Guild social media. Between the four of us, we felt we had some compelling stories to back our support of The CASE Act. (We also managed to nip over to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Obamas’ portraits and pay homage to the four female Supreme Court Justices – although in 100+° weather, the “nip” was more of a sweaty stroll.)

During the course of the evening, we each received notices of which visits we were scheduled for from the onsite team from DC-based organizations. As creators from around the country came in – by rough count, there were over 20 representatives from writers’, photographers’, and songwriters’ groups, as well as us – the DC team made sure we were used to greatest effectiveness. Yanique got a surprise when she discovered that her very first meeting, all on her own, was a meet-and-greet with her Senator, David Perdue (R-GA). She reported back that the Senator was unfamiliar with The CASE Act, and she had the delicious experience of outlining the legislation for him and explaining why it matters to creators.

15 Representatives, Three Senators, and One Markup in Two Days

The goal of the trip was to meet with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee before the Committee voted on the markup of The CASE Act on Thursday, July 18. Wednesday was spent galloping from office to office, meeting with Congressional staff or Members of Congress, and reconvening for lunch or breaks in one of the House office building’s cafeterias. Liz and Yanique joined one team that spent quite a lot of time meeting with Senatorial staff. Dawn and I were in a team that focused on the House, working to build interest and support for HR 2426, the House version of The CASE Act.

With a wide range of creators participating in each team, the meetings were an education on the scale of infringement, and the toll it takes in different creative industries. It was a tiring but exciting day, involving a lot of trekking from office to office. (We even got to experience a rare trip on the Capitol subway. It’s usually reserved for Congressional staff, but with the temperature approaching 110°, and with a last minute meeting necessitating rushing the few blocks from the House to the Senate office buildings, one staffer took pity on us and got us onto the subway.)

When I went on my first few lobbying trips, I was so shy and tongue-tied I found it difficult to speak. So I was gratified to hear that the Guild crew didn’t have the same problems I did. From the photos cropping up on social media – Liz hobnobbing with a Representative over a mutual love for a children’s book character, Yanique chatting with her Senator, Dawn thanking a Representative from her home state – it was clear the meetings were going well. I found out how well the next morning, when I saw Copyright Alliance Executive Director Keith Kupferschmid at breakfast. Instead of saying hello, he greeted me by demanding, “Where is Liz? Is Liz here?” As it turned out, one of the senior executives at the Chamber of Commerce had been following #TheCASEAct on social media, was captivated by Liz’s posts, and wanted to meet her in person.

Left to right: At the National Portrait Gallery; selfie of the Guild crew Dawn, Yanique, Liz, and Rebecca; Yanique meeting Senator David Purdue (R-GA); in her team meeting, Dawn (6th from left) met her hometown Representative Rodney Davis (7th from left).

Selfie photo © 2019 Dawn Mitchell

Hearing (and Seeing!) the Hearing

Thursday was dominated by the Senate Judiciary Committee markup hearing on The CASE Act. The hearing was an opportunity for the Senators on the Committee to mull over the Bill, ask for any changes, and then vote on whether or not to pass the Bill for consideration by the full Senate. A markup hearing on a Bill is the first major hurdle to cross, and we were disappointed to discover that there were no seats available in the Committee room. The large queue of creators who had gathered to attend the hearing began to dwindle, and we hopefully skooched up in line. That strategy paid off; as the hearing got under way, three of us were invited into the room.

The hearing itself was an interesting glimpse at how the Senate operates. The members of the Committee sat in an open ring of tables in the center of the room, facing each other, and observers occupied the rows of chairs on the perimeter of the room. Senators arrived while the meeting was underway, rushing in to be present at any votes as the cordial discussion of the different bills was in progress.  We hadn’t expected much opposition to The CASE Act, since no amendments had been proposed, and since the Bill already had a number of co-sponsors. However, it was gratifying to hear Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) introduce the bill and describe how vital it is to creators, and to hear the other Senators chime in with agreement. What we didn’t expect was such a solid show of support from the other committee members; Senators Feinstein (D-CA), Leahy (D-VA), Cruz (R-TX), and Blumenthal (D-CT) asked to be listed as co-sponsors of the Bill on the spot. The CASE Act passed the Committee by voice vote, with no objections.

Out in the hallway, the excitement was palpable. Many of the creators’ associations had been working on some form of small copyright claims legislation for many years, and this was the first time a copyrights small claims bill had ever been voted out of committee. Senator John Kennedy joined us in the hallway, where we thanked each other – he thanking us for our advocacy work on the Bill, and we thanking him for introducing the Bill into the Senate. (Senator Kennedy also complimented Yanique on her sparkly sneakers.)

The day was capped off by more meetings with Members of Congress, with teams of creators scattering to visit different offices, and gathering on breaks to compare notes. I was teamed up with Dawn, who quickly realized that her status as a disabled veteran (how many graphic designers do you know are former Marines?) gave her an additional point of connection with Congressional staff. Watching her, and hearing the other creators talk about their interactions really brought home how valuable grassroots involvement is. The Members of Congress and staff we met with all stressed how important it is to hear the stories of real creators, and to get our emails, letters, and phone calls.

Left to right: Liz’s “Copyright Warriors” sketch gained her Instagram fans on Capitol Hill; Senator Kennedy (center) is thanked by ASMP Executive Director Tom Kennedy (back to camera); Yanique’s sneakers made an impression; we celebrated at the end of a long three days.

“Copyright Warriors” sketch © 2019 Liz DiFiore; Senator Kennedy thanked and Yanique sneakers photos © 2019 Rebecca Blake. Images used with permission.

Next Steps: Keeping the Grassroots Green

That brings us to the next steps in getting The CASE Act enacted. Our whirlwind trip was largely successful, and we’re well positioned to get the House version of the Bill, HR 2426, into markup in the fall. But after we got home, we started hearing reports that opponents to The CASE Act, largely big tech and Internet giants, have started a misinformation campaign against the Bill. They’ve even started an astroturf campaign (a fake grassroots campaign backed by deep pockets rather than true grassroots community groups) that is spreading false rumors about the Act across the social media. You may have seen some – they warn that if the CASE Act passes, people will be sued thousands of dollars for using memes or “ordinary” Internet use.

The best thing we can do to counter the astroturf campaign is to keep contacting Congress: your Senators, your Representatives, and Members of the House Judiciary Committee. We’re going to be asking all of you to keep up the campaign to support The CASE Act throughout August. Those of us who make the lobbying trips do a lot to tell Members of Congress why we need The CASE Act. But it’s really the grassroots efforts – the communications from real working artists — that seal the deal.