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How Much Is Too Much In Terms Of Taking Web Site Ideas



4:40 pm on Nov 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I am posting this thread because I am encountering a tough situation and, after reading other threads - would like to know how other's might take a look at this/or if there is anything that can be done.

It seems that a competitor, for a site that I work and manage, is constantly and consistently taking the same (or similiar) ideas for their site. They opened for business about 6 months after the one I take care of, and from the start, there were definite similiarities. The business I am associated with worked - and are still working, very hard to make the site content rich, offer more services and information, and provide an overall better service and source of information. It seems that everytime we add, or change something, they do the same a few weeks later, and I have been following this pattern of events for about 4-5 months. This includes establishing the same inbound links - (as much as they can), general page layouts, ideas for content, even logo design ideas. The worst part about it, is that it is obvious from web design perspective, that the competitor has very little advanced technical design skills.

I am fully for being competitive and doing what you can to be successful, but at what point is too much, and what really are my options - short of any legal action? It's just really frustrating to work on something and see the ideas being taken and reused so much. Thanks ahead!


5:29 pm on Nov 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I would think you would have to just wait for them to slip up and take a little TOO much of your site, then pounch with a cease and disist.


5:38 pm on Nov 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

If your competitor has hired out the web-design, perhaps professional courtesy might allow a friendly heads-up.

Keep your documentation up-to-date. Save dated screen shots and source-code downloads. If it really is visibly similar, perhaps the pirated-sites site would be interested in doing a feature on the evolution of the pirated site.



6:11 pm on Nov 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I definitely believe the site was not designed from anyone (any company) who builds websites at a professional level, and thanks for the info - I have not been keeping the other's screenshots or anything they've done. - and will start doing this now.


7:13 pm on Nov 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You might be able to view past pages from the Wayback Machine at archive.org if it isn't blocked by your competitor.



1:31 am on Nov 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

If you truly believe they are imitating your "intellectual property" beyond reasonable coincidence, why not make a few screen shots and content comparisons (including HTML, keywords, etc.) and address the matter directly?

Other suggestions, such as using the Way Back Machine, are a good idea to drive your point home when presenting your "case", so to speak, with the imitator.

If it bothers you, there isn't any reason not to put your foot down. I don't believe it's our lot in life to supply competitors with a fully functional template (ours) for their business model. Uncompensated and uncredited, no less.

If the response you receive is unfavorable you'll need to contact an attorney, if you choose to pursue it. At that point, you'll need the make the similarities between the two sites absolutely crystal clear. While they may be clear to you - the creator - the non-coincidental similarities need to be clear to the layman, also, or you haven't a legal leg to stand on.


1:49 pm on Nov 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thanks for the insights and advice - I intend to get things in order to make sure that I have the leg to stand on - and will go from there. Thanks again!


6:07 pm on Nov 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Look and feel is a grey area of copyright: it sits in between "expression" and "idea", as a "style". Cases have suggested that it is or isn't protectable: it depends upon the particular circumstances. So a claim of copyright infringement may not be very straight forward: in other words, expensive. If they are savvy enough, they may know this and are "working the system".

In the UK - maybe in other systems derived from the UK legal system - you may have redress through the common law of "passing off" where a competitor is continually imitating your trade dress. The fact that this has been occurring for an elongated period of time gives you the advantage, especially if you have records. Again, this is not easy to substantiate.

For example, if one supermarket copies anothers ideas of "organic food section", or "bluetooth barcode trollies", or "bakery section", or ... then clearly that is not actionable. However, if they copied the idea down to too many minor details, then it may become an issue.

For example: you say they have the same links. Is it obvious these are a copy, or if someone else was looking for links for the same particular subject, is it reasonable that they would independently select the same?

I think you need legal advice.


6:34 pm on Nov 22, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

dedmond29 I think this is quite tough because if he is just copying features but coding them uniquely then it may be hard to get a "passing off" ruling against them. Is appearance similar?

I am tempted to suggest you throw some curved balls and see if they follow them into some kind of trouble.

Or to up your development rate so that they cannot follow you or at least cannot keep up.

In other sectors I have seen that a profitable company making significant investment in product development and taking many small steps forward each year quite quickly proved impossible to keep up with :-) in that case I was a follower but with a smaller budget and no way to predict in which direction their next 5 steps would be. Their other advantage was that they could take each step forward in 3 months while we were not disciplined enough to do the same.

Following for us proved a "failed strategy" - I dont recommend it.

It is one of the features of the internet at the moment that people who are short of original ideas can rather too easily see what their competitors have done and just copy their ideas. They will always be behind though and that will be apparent.

One area this would be less possible is if you developed secure login areas for longer term or loyal customers into which it would be harder for you competitor to look.

It is always still possible for them to find out what you were up to but you did mention that their skills were not very great so perhaps you could catch them at it and make publicity from the fact that they are being so unethical in their business methods.


2:53 am on Nov 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Greetings and Gidday from downunder folks,

My commiserations dedmond, I *know* how you feel.

I'm still fuming over and ruminating on my options with a similar situation (newly designed web site with content, photos and layout ripped off, and any changes only at bgcolour and underlying code level, so to visitors and search engines, they look like the same site!).

Will double check with the client first to make sure they didn't give this mob permission <groan>, and then I'll send a polite cease and desist email. If that doesn't work, after a phone call, a second email letter gets sent, and it gets copied to their domain host, with all the ammo and legal references.

Meanwhile, have you thought about dobbing them into these guys? http://www.pirated-sites.com/ <grin>

As you'll see, the situation is nothing new.

<rant> And spare me from the next person who cheerily tells me that "Oh well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery".

It starts to grate when people think that public domain means free from copyright, and you see your hard work being ripped off by talentless, unimaginative, lazy hacks!<sigh>

My only consolation lies in knowing that I've got more ideas and experience than they'll ever have, I enjoy what I do and the (Australian) law is (hopefully) on my side. </rant>

Good luck and keep us all posted!

Cheers and Hooroo

[edited by: engine at 2:24 pm (utc) on Nov. 23, 2003]
[edit reason] de-linked [/edit]


7:19 pm on Nov 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I do not know how far the road I am going to end up going with this - right now, we are working on some ways to expand the services offered, and hopefully provide a better experience for the user.

As we continue to grow and develop the site, I will just keep track of what is being taken and not taken. Thanks for all the insight and advice.
Like I said, it is not that I feel upset about them using the same business idea - it's that they cannot really think of original ways to do it, and that even when imitating, they do a bad job at it!

Hopefully our customers and viewers can spot the quality difference - so far I think that this the case.

I'll check out that link as well - Thanks again!


12:12 am on Dec 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I've taken ideas from other sites (anyone building a shopping cart should try to reverse-engineer Amazon's), but a whole site? sheesh!

If the impostors are as bad as you claim, there's at least one thing I can think of: keep making things more complicated.

-XHTML compliance
-Using CSS exclusively
-DHTML widgets (not for links, obviously)
-Server side content creation.

Less HTML makes similarities even more obvious, so CSS can help. But all the rest, even when only slightly complicated stumps 90% of "web designers" out there.

You also mention making your site a better service and source of information. Have you done some usability studies? Sitting down 3-5 users in talking aloud sessions sometimes brings up interesting ideas for small tweaks that are sometimes hard to notice, and therefore copy.

Last but not least, document everything, and go talk to a lawyer if it persists. I might even get the lawyer to send a friendly cease-and-desist letter if there was a winnable case.


1:30 am on Dec 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Greetings and Gidday again folks,

just " discovered" a blog site which may be useful for UK and Euro webmasters who want to keep up with copyright and patent stuff. <www.keepinglegal.com>

Cheers and hooroo


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