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Internet Attorney: Website Intellectual Property Infringement

By Internet Lawyer

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.

Federal Trade Commission, BlueHippo and You

By Internet Lawyer

ftc-blue-hippoWhen it comes to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), don’t think that you can stick your head in the sand and hope the government ignores the way you do business. BlueHippo is an example of what happens.

The company has been forced into bankruptcy when the bank processing its payments froze its funds. The company has been accused of violating its settlement with the FTC over deceptive sales of computers and other electronics via layaway. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant. The fact remains that Blue Hippo has been nailed by both the Federal Trade Commission and state consumer protection agencies for allegedly engaging in deceptive trade practices.

As I remind clients, the best website legal documents will never eliminate all risk but just reduce exposure for most claims. One who violates the law doesn’t get a free pass (e.g. selling acai berry cancer cures online or get-rich-quick scams) because of great terms of service or a privacy policy.

Yes, you should put fundamental protections in place through your website legal documents, particularly with the new FTC guidelines effective December 1, 2009. If you can’t afford to pay for customized documents prepared by an Internet lawyer, then you’ll at least want to use website legal forms prepared by one.

Ultimately, you have to deliver at least what you promised, provide value, and treat your clients right. If you make any effort in client service, you’ll exceed expectations because many Internet business owners simply take the money and run. Don’t become a Federal Trade Commission poster child of what not to do.