A Tale of Two Ripoffs

ripoffOne of the challenges of the internet is how to put your product out there without getting it ripped off. Yes, imitation is a form of flattery and we have all been inspired by things others have done with their blogs, web sites, etc. For example, I started my Top 50 project because I enjoyed reading similar lists from others.

And it’s OK to borrow an idea about layout or design from someone- that’s the whole basis of the creative commons movement on the web.

But sometimes this so called flattery moves beyond an inspiration or the borrowing of a layout idea. Sometimes it crosses the “know it when you see it” line from OK to definitely not OK. As a musician, I struggled with the decision about putting hundreds of fully produced song demos online. But in the end the desire to be heard trumped the desire to be safe. That’s how it is with a lot of stuff, particularly with bloggers who by nature desire to be heard.

One time I happened across another web site (this was way before Flickr) that was using a photo from Newsome.Org as its logo. I wrote a mostly friendly email and suggested that if were going to use the photo they should credit the photographer (my then brother in law). They never responded but the logo was changed. A little odd, but no big deal.

But now that some people believe you can make money with blogs (you can, but you can also make money playing basketball and the odds are better that you’ll become an NBA star than that you can live indoors based on blog money), the game has changed. Much like musicians, who start out as artists but once in a blue moon catch lightning in a bottle and descend into money management induced madness, bloggers who believe that their site is a potential money-maker have a lot of good reasons to protect their intellectual property. Stated another way, when some dude appropriates one of my graphics, so what. But if someone steals one of my songs or content from a blog that has financial prospects, that’s a horse of another color.

I read two posts today from bloggers who have seemingly been ripped off. The first, from JKOnTheRun (another Houston guy whose web site somehow won’t let me add a Trackback because while I live near Houston, my web server is in Pittsburgh), involves the use by a company he used to be associated with of a name and graphic very similar to his blog. The second one by Jason Calacanis seems to be a concerted effort by someone to duplicate Weblogs look and feel. Jason is quite a bit less diplomatic than JK, which should make for interesting reading in the days ahead.

I don’t know where the legal line falls when it comes to this sort of thing, but this is a problem that isn’t going to go away. To the contrary, add the prospect of making money and it will become a free-for-all out there.

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