This is a guest blog by Melinda Byerley, Co-Founder and CEO of Vendorsi, a software research tool to help companies avoid the hassles of finding, choosing, and using software and services.
"What do you mean, you're taking all my listings down? You're going to put me out of business!" This was a conversation I'd been having with all the top sellers in eBay's Car Electronics category for months. I was charged with figuring out why in 2003 this was the only category on eBay that wasn't growing.
After some research it became clear. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) was having an impact far beyond its original intent. In this case, the manufacturers of the car electronics industry, most of them household names, were filing DMCA takedown notices against hundreds of small sellers on eBay, causing them to remove inventory that buyers so desperately wanted.
As a platform, eBay is required by law to remove those listings without interpretation, and the seller and the rights owner are required to either negotiate it out or not. But as it turns out, eBay was getting takedown notices for two reasons: the first, because sellers were in some cases using images that were not their own; and second, because the manufacturers were not happy that their own dealers were selling excess inventory on eBay. The second reason was the real economic driver behind the reams of paperwork, but the first provided the legal justification to remove the listing.
Consequently, eBay was not responsible for policing dealer Minimum Advertised Price Agreements; but it was required under the DMCA to remove copyright infringing material if directed to do so by the rights owner, who files the claim "under penalty of perjury."
The answer was simple: sellers needed to respect the rights of the copyright holders by taking their own photographs and writing their own descriptions. Once the sellers started to do that, the category turned around, and the educational program I developed to help the sellers expanded to become what is now known as the VeRO program–short for Verified Rights Owner program.
As a small business owner now myself, I can empathize with the sellers in my category more than ever. At Vendorsi, we're making a tool to help everyone find the right software for their business affordably and with 100% neutrality. Particularly as a technology startup, it's a race against the clock to build a business before the money runs out. Every moment is precious. Every dollar is precious.
The availability of services like Traklight to help me figure out what to spend time and money on when it comes to intellectual property (IP) protection is a relief. I like knowing that, for a very affordable cost, I can get my company started off on the right foot, and protect the hard work my co-founder, employees, investors, and advisors put in to make Vendorsi a success.
In a world where startups are expected to play fast and loose with the law in the name of "move fast and break things," and where the stakes can be enormous, this reassurance of IP protection is crucial. I also don't have to spend thousands of dollars and many hours of time to work with a high-priced attorney I can't afford. I love that Traklight is in a class by itself.