If you’re in the market for some original Aboriginal dot paintings, or an even more esoteric item, like a bed for your pet rat that’s shaped like a slice of cake, you’re in luck: It’s likely that Etsy, the giant, 24/7 online version of the weekend crafts market will have something on offer that will appeal to you.
Etsy, if you hadn’t heard, is one of the world’s fastest-growing ecommerce platforms that has successfully managed to tap into the latent market for easily-accessible, hand-crafted and vintage goods. Since its founding in Brooklyn in 2005 by Robert Kalin, Chris Maguire, Haim Schoppik and Jared Tarbell, it’s mushroomed into a global, 500-person company with more than 40 million members, more than a million shops selling more than $1.35 billion worth of goods in 2013. Etsy charges 20 cents for each item published on the platform for up to four months and a 3.5 percent fee on the sale of each item. Its current CEO is Chad Dickerson, the company’s former chief technology officer. Its investors include Accel Partners, Hubert Burda, Index Ventures, and Union Square Ventures.
Sarah Feingold, a jeweler and metalsmith who also happens to be a lawyer, is a member of Etsy’s core team who’s been through almost the whole journey. Feingold is from a family of artists and first became interested in copyright law when she wanted to find out more about how to protect her creations. That led to a professional interest, law school at Syracuse University, authoring an e-book for artists on copyright basics and what they should be doing to protect their works, and then eventually a job as an attorney at Etsy. Like a lot of startups, Etsy didn’t have an in-house lawyer in 2007. Feingold saw an opportunity, knocked on the company’s doors and managed to convince Kalin that she was the person that they didn’t know they were looking for. Today, Feingold is part of a team of four. She’s an in-house counsel who focuses on intellectual property issues, and works alongside Hissan Bajwa, another in-house counsel. Althea Erickson is the company’s public policy director, and Jordan Breslow is the firm’s general counsel.
Etsy has grown into an important avenue of sustaining livelihoods for creative people. At the same time, the open nature of the Internet, and the rise of entities in Asia that can quickly copy and mass manufacture designs by artisans have made copyright a burning issue of importance for many in the community. It’s not hard to find online discussions between various Etsy sellers debating the limits of fair use, or others sharing their experiences of receiving cease and desist letters.
However, like any other online platform that hosts third-party content, Etsy is subject to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The company acts as an impartial conduit that does not get involved in the merits of the hundreds of infringement claims and counterclaims that flow into Etsy’s offices.
As the company’s chief in-house IP counsel, Feingold handles the DMCA takedown requests, and counter-notices, among other things. Her advice to sellers is to educate themselves as much as possible about copyright policy so that they understand both their own rights, and also understand the complexities of the factors at play when courts judge what is and isn’t fair use.
Below in an edited Q&A, Feingold discusses the DMCA and fair use.