ALM Properties, Inc.
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The Torch Slinger
Etsy General Counsel Sarah Feingold is the only in-house lawyer we know who wields a crème brûlée torch to fashion fine metal jewelry, which she sells on the Web site operated by her employer. Five years ago, she realized that the Brooklyn-based e-commerce sitewhere sellers vend hand-crafted goods ranging from wooden jigsaw puzzles to stylish iPad sleevesdidn't have an in-house counsel. So Feingold pitched the founder with a smattering of company policies that she had redlined, her theories on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and her understanding of Etsy's artist community. She was hired on the spot.
Having made jewelry since her tween years, in college Feingold started thinking about how intellectual property applied to the craft. She now blogs about those issues for Etsy's seller community, and regularly updates her self-published e-book, Copyright for Artists , which teaches artists how they can legally protect their work to ease their worries about being copied. "It's really important to be smart and take appropriate risks when necessary, but not to feel paralyzed," she says.
CORPORATE COUNSEL: Making jewelry isn't exactly something they emphasize in law school. How did you get started?
Sarah Feingold: My parents are both artists, and I was always taking art classes. One day at the local art gallery, I peered in the door of the jewelry class, where people were using fire and hammering things, and I saw saw bladesI just thought that was so cool. Once I started taking the class, I loved the medium. There's a magic quality to jewelry. I also like working with metals, and making things that are very precious and small, and the attention to detail that goes with it. Metal is very unforgiving. There's no eraser, there's no undo key.
CC: When did you start thinking about how intellectual property applied to jewelry?
SF: People would point at a piece of jewelry, and say: "Could you make that?" I thought to myself, "That's easythat's 18-gauge wire, and you do this and you do that." Then I would ask myself, "Can I copy someone's work? What aspects of jewelry can be copyrighted, or trademarked, or patented?" I was fascinated by those questions, and I took some business law classes as an undergrad before deciding to go to law school.
CC: What's the relationship between Etsy and the sellers?
SF: When you sign up to sell on Etsy, you agree to our terms of service. Our sellers take appropriate business and legal risks on their own. If there is an issue with something on our site, and we remove it, we always provide the seller with contact information for the person who asked for its removal and hope that the parties can work things out on their own. That way, Etsy's out of the equation.
CC: How do you use your blog to help artists understand copyright issues?
SF: For my "You be the judge" series of posts, I find interesting up-and-coming cases in which the topics could apply to our members as well. I'm in a good position to educate our artists.
CC: What are the most important issues that you touch on in the e-book?
SF: A lot of artists are intimidated to post something on the Internet. It's sad but true, there's not much you can do to prevent people from copying youbut you can learn how to protect your work. I also think small artists can differentiate themselvesand this isn't even legal advice, this is business adviceby offering a great handmade product, a story that goes behind it, and a real person that stands behind the art. That's something that really can't be copied.