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CalAttorney2, Attorney
Category: Business Law
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Experience:  I am a businesses law attorney, with experience advising and representing owners and investors.
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Website Copywrite

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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?

William B. Esq. :

Thank you for using our service. My name is XXXXX XXXXX I would like to assist you today.

William B. Esq. :

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"

William B. Esq. :

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.

William B. Esq. :

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).

William B. Esq. :

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.

William B. Esq. :

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).

William B. Esq. :

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.

William B. Esq. :

(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).

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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

One quick followup. The email that I received from the CEO competitor said the following:




Hey [my name],


I noticed you're trying to copy our site. I'd ask that you not do that.


[his name], Founder


I was thinking of responding to this and mentioning that my goal is for consumers to be able to distinguish between our sites. Realizing that JustAnswer can not substitute for the advice of an attorney, would you normally advise someone to reply to an email of this sort?


This really is a business judgment call on your part - from the tenor it does not appear terribly threatening, and you are working to change the appearance to avoid any consumer misunderstandings. You have options:
(1) ignore the letter
(2) ignore the letter but proceed to change your site to be unique from his
(3) respond to the letter and acknowledge the resemblance but state that you are working to resolve it
(4) respond to the letter and ignore the resemblance but state that your site is in the middle of being constructed.

You may run the risk of offending him by failing to respond, but you do run a risk of "memorializing" your acknowledgment of the simiarlities between the two sites if you do respond. (You are kind of between a "rock and a hard place" on that since he wrote you in the first place). So it is your call as to whether or not you want to be more courteous in responding to the letter with some amount of risk (if you commit to changing within a set period it does kind of box you in), or if you want to be "rude" and simply ignore it, but work on resolving the issue (you could even write a letter back after that point to attempt to cover any ill feelings).

But as you note, these are all just options in general when it comes to this type of generic threat and there is no hard and fast rule to deal with it.
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