FOUR WEBSITE ISSUES EVERY START-UP SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
It is impossible to find a savvy start-up company without a strong online presence. Most start-ups operate solely online, making a website the cornerstone of their existence. While websites are becoming easier and cheaper to make than ever before, there are subtle legal issues that any start-up founder should be aware of prior to launching a business website. Take a look at your website and see if you are paying attention to all four issues detailed below.
A trademark is a distinguishing name, slogan, image, or other mark used to identify that goods or services come from a particular party. The golden arches for McDonald’s, the typeface for Coca-Cola, or the “Like” button on Facebook are examples of thousands of different trademarks. It is important for business owners to perform a thorough search and choose a business name and other identifying marks that are sufficiently different from those used by other companies. Prior to the ubiquity of the Internet, “Acme Widgets” in San Francisco was unlikely to be confused with an “Acme Widgets” located in St. Louis. Because Internet users could easily access both companies’ websites and potentially become confused, using the same or similar business names could result in a trademark infringement action. Performing the proper research upfront will help you avoid this legal issue on the back-end.
An essential part of any website is its content. “Content” refers to the words, pictures, or sounds that users are able to access when they visit a particular site. While it may seem that the content of a competitor is “generic”, it is important that you do not misappropriate other people’s content when creating a site. Doing so may result in significant penalties under U.S. copyright law. Instead, make sure to research all of the content placed on your website by either you or a professional designer. If the content is an original work of authorship, or you paid another person to use their content, then copyright heaven awaits you. On the other hand, if you swiped your content directly from another website or off of Google Images, this is the quickest path to copyright hell. Do not allow a copyright infringement lawsuit to destroy the credibility of your website. Now is the time to take preventive measures so that your website is legally sound in the future.
People who are developing a website to promote their start-up may be tempted to say disparaging things about their competitors in order to distinguish their business from others. Unfortunately, doing so may result in legal liability for defamation. Defamation occurs when false statements are made regarding another person or entity and those statements are published to a 3rd party. Defamation is a natural byproduct of competition. Competition is a war, and an ugly one at that. Consider Microsoft vs. Apple, Samsung vs. Apple (clearly Apple is doing something right), and Verizon vs. Everybody Else. These are all examples you have probably seen of rivals taking stabs at their competition. However, speaking badly about competitors may result in a legal action being filed that could lead to a costly judgment against your start-up if you do not handle it correctly.The easiest way to avoid this pitfall on your website is to focus on the merits of your company over other competitors. If you absolutely cannot resist the urge to speak badly about competitors, please make sure to check all of the facts of any statements you make. One false statement just might cost your start-up more from a lawsuit than any lost profits due to your competitor.
As the above information should make clear, creating a website to market your business online is not as simple as putting a website together and publishing it on the Internet. There are many legal issues to consider, and the assistance of an attorney early in the process can help avoid significant issues at a later date. Since 2009, the Law Offices of Nate Kelly has provided businesses with highly qualified legal representation and counsel across a variety of legal issues. To schedule a consultation with Mr. Kelly, please call our office today at (310) 228-6215 in Beverly Hills or (415) 336-3001 in San Francisco. To send us an email, please submit our online contact form available here.