Copyright Hearing Examines IP's Intersection with Innovation

As part of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, IP, and the Internet’s ongoing assessment of copyright, a hearing was convened on Thursday titled Innovation in America: The Role of Technology.   The hearing was billed as an opportunity to hear from the technology community and build on last week’s creator’s panel, which focused on the often-overlooked relationship between the two communities and their resolve to work together to innovate. 

Subcommittee Chairman Coble marked his return to the Subcommittee after surgery last week, introducing the hearing by calling it a discussion of the “future . . . rather than the past,” and he asked that witnesses touch on what is to come, as well as what they need from government to meet these innovations.  He briefly noted the fact that “technology has forever changed the world in which we live,” acknowledging that technology depends “on [a] robust intellectual property system.”  Chairman Coble then turned to Rep. Watt, who reflected briefly on last week’s hearing.  He echoed the hearing’s sentiment that the “marriage between technology and content . . . is unmistakable . . . ” and we “have a stake in making it work.”  Full Committee Chairman, Rep. Goodlatte also provided an opening statement. 

The panel of interested parties included a slice of the tech field that at times seemed more interested in patent litigation than the copyright issues at hand. The five witnesses were Danae Ringelmann (Founder & Chief Customer Officer, Indiegogo), Jim Fruchterman (President & CEO, Benetech), Nathan Seidle (CEO, SparkFun Electronics, Inc.), Rakesh Agrawal (Founder & CEO, SnapStream Media), and Van Lindberg (VP of Intellectual Property, Rackspace). 

Ringelmann started her testimony with an introduction to her crowdfunding company, IndieGogo, which she founded as a way of solving “the inefficiency of finance.”  Through examples of different fundraising campaigns on IndieGogo, she drove a message that stressed innovation drives technology and technology drives innovation.

Fruchterman followed with a discussion of his non-profit organization, which primarily maintains a book-sharing library for the blind.  The library, which delivers ebooks digitally, crowdsourced the content by having volunteers scan the books and then make them available.  His organization was probably the most closely tied to copyright, allowing him to highlight existing sections of the Copyright Act as the basis for innovation; he pointed to Section 121 and Copyright Act’s protection of fair use.  He cited fair use as the bedrock of what allows them to provide ebooks to more than “a quarter of a million American students” for “1/15th” the cost of the traditional book.