Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Beneficent Technology Inc.
Companies involved in open-source code, crowdsourcing, and fair use of intellectual property on Thursday delivered a strong message to U.S. lawmakers reviewing IP laws: Don't forget about our businesses.
Leaders from crowdfunding website Indiegogo Inc., nonprofit software developer Beneficent Technology Inc., manufacturer SparkFun Electronics Inc., television monitoring company SnapStream Media Inc., and cloud-computing company Rackspace Inc. detailed their IP desires to members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet. The hearing followed the panel's discussion last week with music, movie, and photo industry representatives about the economic benefits of strong copyrights.
The panelists said any IP reform that Congress considers should protect business models based on open sourcing and fair use. Through crowdsourcing and other methods, companies and individuals can make money without formally patenting or copyrighting their creations, they said.
Nathan Seidle, SparkFun's chief executive officer, said innovation isn't reliant on intellectual property. SparkFun makes more than 450 products that it permits others to copy, remake, and sell, he said.
"I don't need a patent to make a profit," Seidle said, "and in fact, the creation of a patent and the enforcement of a patent are merely distractions to innovation."
Van Lindberg, Rackspace's vice president of intellectual property, said the ability to widely disseminate creations is important.
"Innovation doesn't just come from control" of the intellectual property, he said.
Jim Fruchterman, president and chief executive officer of Beneficent Technology, also known as Benetech, and Rakesh Agrawal, SnapStream's founder and chief executive officer, said their companies depend on fair use.
SnapStream creates software that allows organizations to record television shows and search for content in those programs. And Benetech counts among its projects the world's biggest online library for individuals with vision disabilities.
"Intellectual property laws, at their best, can encourage technological advances, reward creativity, and bring benefits to society," Fruchterman said. "To make this possible, we must keep the balance in copyright. We need to defend fair use as a laboratory for creativity."
During last week’s hearing on copyright protections, leaders from the Copyright Alliance, Getty Images Inc., the American Society of Media Photographers, Yep Roc Records and Redeye Distribution Inc., and 3-D moviemaker Stereo D LLC told the subcommittee that robust copyright protections are vital for their industries' growth and survival in the digital as they battle piracy.
Danae Ringelmann, Indiegogo co-founder and chief customer officer, said in a world where everything is easily copied, everything is easily distributed, referencing a 2008 article by Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly.
"Rather than try to fight it, because it's like water rolling down a hill, try to embrace it," Ringelmann said.
Representative Howard Coble (R-N.C.), chairman of the subcommittee, said copyright laws "should be generously laced with common sense." But he didn't lay out any specific IP reform proposals.
"Government should not stand in the way of innovation," he said. "It should create an environment that will foster and incentivize it."