More than a decade ago, I met iCopyright founder Mike O’Donnell at the company’s spacious new headquarters in Renton. It was a big space, with room for dozens of employees.
The Seattle entrepreneur obviously had ambitious plans to change the way publishers licensed their content, monetizing the digital content and trying to protect it from those who’d rather just rip it off.
While an interesting concept, it didn’t happen that fast. And roadblocks and hurdles certainly arose. In a 2002 piece for the Seattle P-I, I told the story of how the company — which once employed 100 people and counted Dow Jones and BusinessWeek as customers — emerged from the darkest days of the dot-com bust.
iCopyright, amazingly, is still standing. And today the company disclosed in a SEC filing that it has landed $2.6 million from angel investors in New York and Seattle.
A virtual company with 12 employees spread between New York, Texas, California and Seattle, iCopyright is now led by former Primedia vice president of content licensing Andrew Elston. (O’Donnell remains an investor and board member).
A fan of the service from his time at Primedia, Elston joined the company about five years ago and took over the CEO shortly thereafter.
“We are survivors, and thrivers,” Elston told GeekWire in an interview today. “There’s certainly been a lot of evolution and change.”
While the markets have shifted and technologies have morphed, for the most part the overall mission at iCopyright has remained the same. It’s still trying to solve a nagging problem for online publishers: Helping them protect their original works while at the same deriving fees for reprints or syndication rights.
It’s certainly been a long road for the company, especially as information freeloaders and aggregators disregard copyrights of original content creators.
But that problem, Elston said, highlights the need for iCopyright.
“As people struggle to control the plethora of content on the Internet, our service is very appealing,” he said.
One of the longest running aspects of the business is a reprint service, which allows those interested in gaining rights to digital content to easily purchase a physical copy or PDF. iCopyright handles the micro-transaction, taking a 20 percent cut.
In addition, the company operates a service with advertising embedded on the reprints where revenues are split 50-50 between iCopyright and the publisher.
The $2.6 million will be used to support new plug-ins for Joomla, Drupal and WordPress, commonly used content management systems. It also will be used to build out the company’s new syndication business, a service that allows publishers to painlessly syndicate digital content with links, photos and business rules in-tact.
In fact, the problem that iCopyright is trying to solve dovetails with the Stop Online Piracy Act — a controversial measure which continues to ruffle feathers of many on the Internet. The goal of SOPA is well intentioned — to stop online copyright infringement by content and data thieves. But many technology companies say the measure goes about the issue in the wrong way.
Elston notes that iCopyright is trying to help content creators protect where their digital content goes, making sure it holds on to the same business rules as it spreads via different channels.
“We are making it possible for sites to easily automate the syndication of content in a trusted environment,” he said. “Organizations can sign up to get a lawful feed of the content.”
For the most part, those rules are disregarded right now. But Elston thinks things are changing, and he believes iCopyright has a solution to help solve the needs of publishers.
Elston declined to say how much total capital has been raised by iCopyright to date, noting that it is a “complicated situation.” The company raised large amounts of cash during the dot-com boom days of the late 90s, and then hit the wall like other startup companies of that era.
It was eventually acquired by Data Depth, a firm which has since gone out of business. O’Donnell purchased the assets from the existing investors about five years ago, keeping the name Data Depth for a short spell before reverting to iCopyright.
The fact that the company has made it through the ups and downs of the past few years is nothing short of amazing, especially since I remarked on the fact of the company’s tenacity nine years ago.
From my 2002 P-I story:
Asked why he wanted to rescue the company from the dot-com dustpan, O’Donnell responds with the typical entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
“The world needs this,” he says. “It is inevitable and if isn’t going to be iCopyright, it is going to be someone else.”