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Etsy general counsel Sarah Feingold is likely the only in-house lawyer we know who wields a crème brulée torch to fashion fine metal jewelry, which she sells on the website operated by her employer. Five years ago this week, Feingold took up with the Brooklyn-based e-commerce site for hand-crafted goods, ranging from woolen slippers and wooden jigsaw puzzles to stylish iPad sleeves. She was the seventeenth employee when she joined, and now the company that did more than $525 million in sales last year has more than 250 employees and 800,000 active online shops. Having made jewelry since her ‘tween years, during college Feingold started thinking about how intellectual property applied to the craft. While working at a firm in Rochester, New York, she lectured to local artist groups on IP and started selling her wares on Etsy. When Feingold realized the company didn’t have in-house counsel, she pitched the founder with a smattering of company polices 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. Feingold is also the author of a self-published e-book called Copyright for Artists, a guide that grew out of an independent study on IP in law school. The idea is to teach artists how they can legally protect their own work, and 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. “I hate it when people say to me that they don’t want to put their stuff online because they’re afraid.” CorpCounsel.com caught up with Feingold, a former intern in the legal department of CorpCounsel.com’s parent company, ALM, to talk about metalsmithing and the law. An edited version of that conversation follows. CorpCounsel.com: How did you get started making jewelry? Sarah Feingold: My parents are both artists, and I was always taking art classes. One day at the local art gallery, I remember peering in the door of the jewelry class, where people were using fire and hammering things, and I saw saw blades—I just thought that was so cool. Once I started taking the class, I really loved the medium. I feel like there’s a magic quality with 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. You have to be pretty serious to get anywhere with metal. 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 easy—that’s 18-guage 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 are the big legal issues that come up? SF: When you’re in-house at any company—especially in a small legal department, and I’m the only lawyer here so far—you have to be half businessperson, half lawyer. You always have to look around and issue-spot and prioritize. In my normal day, I’m dealing with a lot of contracts issues, employment matters, and then, because there’s so much third-party content on the site, intellectual property issues. Making sure that we comply with the DMCA. Making sure that anything we’re going to be launching is vetted for legal issues. 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. We can’t step into the shoes of a specific seller and make a legal argument for them. 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 of the person who asked for its removal and hope those two parties work it out on their own. That way, Etsy’s out of the equation. I think that’s what’s best for the rest of the seller community in general. CC: You write company blog posts for the seller community, and you wrote an e-book about artist copyright. How do you think about communicating legal matters to artists? SF: Etsy has an amazing community, and we’re providing a platform for people to share ideas and to start small businesses—I think it’s our duty to provide access to certain resources. 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. It’s good to educate, and I’m in a position to help. CC: How long has your e-book been available? SF: I first published it in 2008. I keep updating it—that’s the beauty of e-books. The law changes slowly, but it does change. CC: What are the most important issues for artists that you touch on in the e-book? SF: A lot of artists are intimidated to post something online. They feel like there are so many ways that people can steal their ideas, and they feel really scared. I get it. If I have this amazing idea and I put it out there and someone steals it, I would feel violated. With the Internet, it’s sad but true, there’s not much you can do to prevent people from copying you—but you can learn how to protect your work and what can be protected. That’s what my e-book goes into—the different forms of intellectual property protection and how they apply to artists. But I also think small artists can differentiate themselves—and this isn’t even legal advice, this is business advice—by offering a great, handmade product, a story that goes behind it, great customer service, and a real person that stands behind the art. That’s something that really can’t be copied. And I just think to myself: something amazing could happen. You could get a great licensing deal, you could get some great press, you could make people happy by selling your artwork. And you could make a financial profit. That’s very empowering.

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