Ask a Business Lawyer. Get Business Law Questions Answered ASAP.
Hi, I'm currently building a website with a similar feature set to an existing website. Given that fact, my website currently looks similar to this website. We have some additional content that this existing website doesn't have and will be positioning our product differently, as well as targeting a different demographic (Latino), but when we had a prototype designed (publicly online), we also mentioned that the designers may want to look at this site (and other similar sites) to understand the market we are entering. Unfortunately, this has led the CEO of the existing website to contact me worried that we will be copying his site. We don't want to "copy" a site, and/or open ourselves up to litigation. How would you recommend that we respond to this CEO and what does the law say in terms of site similarities? What aspects of a site is it important to distinguish so that you are not against the law?
Thank you for using our service. My name is XXXXX XXXXX I would like to assist you today.
Due to the nature of doing business, there are many businesses (both "brick and mortar" and internet sites) that have similar appearances and offer the same or similar services. This is the nature of competition. An exact replica or duplicate of another person's work however can be termed an "intentional interference with prospective economic advantage"
In order to differentiate your site from your competitors, you will need to ensure that your site is something that a consumer can differentiate or understand is different from the competitors. The issue is one of causing consumer confusion. If the consumer cannot tell who they are buying from, you are running a risk of liability.
The name of your business should be different enough for the consumer to understand the difference (however, if the business name is XXXXX XXXXX is built on the industry - for example a lumber yard by the name "tree fallers" cannot complain when another company opens that is "timber fallers" - both are in the industry of cutting trees, and both names are XXXXX XXXXX the industry, a unique name should not be copied).
The appearance of your website should be different enough to discern the difference (color scheme, font, bullet points, etc.). It is understandable that the layouts will be similar - the information is probably necessarily needed in the same format or order, but you can make it so that the appearance is unique enough that a consumer can tell the difference.
The websites URL, or webpage name should follow the same rules as the "business name" identified above (generics can be similar, unique names should probably be avoided - you may be able to get away with it, but you are running a risk of litigation).
I hope the above is helpful, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to let me know and I will follow up quickly.
Thank you for using our service, please do not forget to rate my answer when you are satisfied. I do wish you the best of luck in this matter.
(It may be a good idea not to reference the other site to "understand your market" there is nothing inherently wrong with referencing the competition, but goading the other site may unnecessarily lead to an antagonistic relationship - this is not necessarily legal information as much as it is pre-litigation avoidance strategies).
One quick followup. The email that I received from the CEO competitor said the following:
Hey [my name],
DISCLAIMER: Answers from Experts on JustAnswer are not substitutes for the advice of an attorney. JustAnswer is a public forum and questions and responses are not private or confidential or protected by the attorney-client privilege. The Expert above is not your attorney, and the response above is not legal advice. You should not read this response to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law that might affect the situation you describe. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken with you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction to which your question pertains.
The responses above are from individual Experts, not JustAnswer. The site and services are provided “as is”. To view the verified credential of an Expert, click on the “Verified” symbol in the Expert’s profile. This site is not for emergency questions which should be directed immediately by telephone or in-person to qualified professionals. Please carefully read the Terms of Service (last updated February 8, 2012).