Internet Attorney: Website Intellectual Property Infringement

Based on what I’ve seen online as an Internet attorney, I have to ask…Is your website two tacos short of a Mexican combo platter?

Back in the Stone Ages when I attending law school, there was an important U.S. Supreme Court decision about “borrowing” that involved two local Mexican restaurants. Two Pesos essentially copied Taco Cabana. We’re talking everything from restaurant layout to colors to menu. Except for the names, the taco joints were pretty much identical (and decent cheap Tex-Mex too).

Taco Cabana successfully sued Two Pesos. By the time it was over, Taco Cabana owned Two Pesos.

What the heck does this have to do with your website?

The same type of copying occurs almost on a daily basis on the Internet. Competitors rip a website layout and even borrow a few photos to use on their own websites. Article writers and unethical copywriters “borrow” content.

Intentional or not, this is intellectual property theft. Once an Internet attorney gets involved, claims for copyright, trademark, and trade dress infringement are common in these cases.

On March 8th, a Seattle-based online jewelry retailer sued a Brooklyn-based competitor, claiming that the competitor had improperly taken photos and other aspects of its website to use on a competing site. Regardless of the outcome, there’s a good chance both sides will spend over a $100K in legal fees. That’s in addition to any damages awarded or settlement.

Moral of the story? Make sure that you own the content on your site and have the legal right to use the images (such as stock photos, logos, and order buttons).

And just in case you’ve accidentally got infringing content on your site that you don’t know about, you’ll want to make sure that you include the right website legal documents, including a DMCA Notice. One of the best things about a DMCA Notice is that it makes it easier for the parties involved to resolve their differences instead of heading directly to court for a nasty expensive battle no one wants. As always, if you have any specific legal issues, talk with your Internet attorney.

Author Mike Young, Esq.

Mike Young has been practicing business and technology law since 1994 and is an angel investor in startups. He's been an entrepreneur since 1988. To get legal help from Attorney Young, click here now or call 214-546-4247 to schedule a phone consultation.

More posts by Mike Young, Esq.