It is over 30 years since the launch of the first website, the World Wide Web (W3), in August 1999. But it was not until 2010 that the population of websites on the internet exploded to reach 1.88 billion websites in 2021.
This figure keeps rising as thousands of websites keep popping up by the day. While not all these websites are active, they make for an overly crowded space creating the need for designs that can stand out.
Unfortunately, outstanding designs can also attract copycats, affecting your brand’s reputation. The good news is that you can do several things to prevent others from stealing your design or holding them accountable for their actions.
Registering for IP Protection
It takes a lot to create a website that stands out. So, once you have succeeded at creating and publishing one, the last thing you want to see is its copy on the internet. The best way to ensure such a thing does not occur is by registering for IP protection.
The most applicable IP protection for a website design is copyright and trademark protection. Copyright protections apply to works of art such as drawings, photographs, music, literary work, and paintings.
The creator owns the copyright to their work unless under rare circumstances, such as when they are contracted to do the job. Copyright protections in Canada are enforceable for the creator’s life and 50 years after death. Copyrightable aspects of a website can include graphics, symbols, videos, and text content.
The second most applicable IP protection is trademarks that cover brand identifiers such as brand names or, in this case, website names, slogans, logos, and in rare cases, the design.
Upon registration of these rights, you reserve the exclusive rights to your website design and the power to sue for infringement of your rights.
Steps to Take If another Entity Steals Your Website Design
If you hope to take legal action against a person or entity for infringement, you will need evidence to make your case. So you must start documenting as soon as you become aware of the infringement.
Start by noting the dates when you became aware of the infringement and take screenshots of the infringer’s website while paying special attention to the URLs. You can also leverage technology to look at earlier dates to establish when the infringement began.
Contact the Website Owner
Once you have your evidence, the next step would be contacting the website owner. The owner’s contact will often be on their website, so you should not have a problem reaching them.
Since this step is more of a legal undertaking, having a lawyer help you with the correspondence is best. First, the lawyer will send a cease and desist letter to the infringing party.
A basic definition of a cease and desist letter is a legal notice sent to the infringing party informing them about your knowledge of their infringement and demanding that they stop further infringement on your rights.
There is no standard format for a cease and desist letter, but it will almost always have the words “cease and desist” in its content.
Contact Third Parties for Action or Go to Court
It’s not always automatic that you will get a positive response after sending the cease and desist letter. Under such circumstances, you can contact the infringer’s hosting service provider with evidence of the infringement and ask them to pull the website down.
Alternatively, you can reach out to search engines to have the website blacklisted. While this will not help bring it down, it will ensure that it is removed from the list of ranking websites.
If the infringement results in financial damages to your business, you are within your right to sue the infringer for damages. In most cases, infringement cases settle out of court, which is a win-win situation for all parties involved.
If an out-of-court settlement is not an option, your lawyer will help you face the infringer in court, where the court can award damages if the infringer is found guilty.