Apparently I've plagerised a site

To my amazement a client is saying that a design I’ve done is a copy of one of theirs. It’s actually impossible because the site they’re referring to I have never seen before (until now). I know it’s my word against theres, but still.

The sites are both corporate and in the same field, but that’s where the similarity ends. I said they both use a green, albeit different ones, and have a grey background and some city shots but that’s as far as it goes.

I have sent the design to 8 people who all agree there is no sign of plagerism whatsoever.

I stand by my design; I have been in the business for about 10 years and would never copy another design. She says if the owners of the site I’m supposed to have copied want to take it to court then it’s me that’ll go, not them.

I live in the UK; what’s my position? Surely, they sub-contracted the work out to me so if the other company decided to take action, it would be against them, and not me. They would have to prove I copied it and take me to court I guess.

Any ideas?

What is your question? You already stated your position which is that you didn’t copy the design, no nothing further need be done.

“I live in the UK; what’s my position? Surely, they sub-contracted the work out to me so if the other company decided to take action, it would be against them, and not me. They would have to prove I copied it and take me to court I guess.”

I’m asking what would happen if they other company took my client to court.

I’m not a lawyer or anything but just having a similar website doesn’t mean its the same or you copied some other person’s content. I seriously doubt anything would happen to you if your client got taken to court by whoever owns the other site. It is your clients responsibility to make sure whatever the display on their commercial website is not infringing. They have the option of taking the site down or using a different layout, it is totally their decision what to display on their website. All your client could do was sue you after the fact and the burden of proof would be on them. If you are in different countries I am sure it would be even harder for them to take legal action against you to begin with.

A great number of websites have very similar designs. Some color schemes are more favored than others for example also 2 and 3 column layouts. I would just continue to tell the client that you in no way copied this other website and had no knowledge of them until they brought the site to your attention. Also ask them to refrain from accusing you of copyright infringement before you bring legal action against them for slander. That should really get them going but I would only do that if they persist in harassing you about it.

There are going to be a few things you can do to show that you didn’t copy their website (not “100% proof” but a good start at least if you wanted to get your point across):

  1. You can tell them to check their logs for your IP address. They’ll see you accessed it after they contacted you but seeing that your IP wouldn’t show up before then will show that you at least didn’t look at it from your usual location. You could have done it from a different IP, but again, just something you could mention to start.

  2. You can show them the code that renders your client’s site and compare it to their code. There may be similarities but most likely your CSS / DIV info would be fairly similar if you actually copied their website. Most people that steal a design aren’t too smart to completely change everything (or the order of the CSS) so you can show that they are completely different.

  3. As for the design, there is a lot of threats out there that someone “stole” their design … but design is hard to protect given there are many general concepts that are going to be used. A business site that has a city shot and corporate colors is a dime a dozen. Same goes for layout, a top banner with a top or side nav is pretty standard (especially if it’s built using a CMS).

However, like the others have said, it’s their word against yours and I really wouldn’t worry that they would take anyone to court. They’d have to be the one to prove that it was stolen, so they would need a lot more than same colors and similar types of images.

Of course I haven’t seen the two designs in question, so I can’t say if I would assume that as well, but until it gets to that point, I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about it.

Based on what you said in your first post, here is what I think would happen:

If they sued you or your for copying their site, or sought an injunction or otherwise took legal action then you or your client would receive a notice indicating the nature of the accusation and the court venue. If only your client is named, they would most likely ask you to go to court to answer the accusation.

You would arrive with various documentation about your work as it relates to that website, in preparation to defend yourself against those accusation. Given the fact that the other party needs to prove that you, in fact, stole their site design you might have to answer some questions or counter some arguments. However, if you didn’t actually steal the design then it would be extremely hard to prove that you did and you should prevail in court.

Thanks everyone, really nice/helpful replies.

Sounds like some serious fishing by the accusing company IMO.

A nice letter explaining that you have not stolen their design and have never seen their site probably ends any thought of this ever again.

Bad idea. Never respond to something like this unless you have to - there is nothing to be gained by a nice letter.

sounds like the client freaked out when they saw a similar website and assumed the worst.

In my opinion, just hold your head up high and don’t get sucked in to their panic. If things have been good so far, hopefully all it will take is your reassurance and confident attitude (“don’t worry, it’s all original work and I can prove it”). They will come to see there is probably nothing at all to worry about, and believe you. On the other hand, if they seem to be unreasonable or untrustworthy themselves then remember that you can’t let them use it as an excuse not to pay! Be prepared to defend your right to be paid for your own original work! Hopefully it’s never going to come to more than a statement of fact, either way.

That’s just my opinion, unless I misunderstood and the other company already made a complaint. In which case, dunno. I know about people though and this could just be a genuine misunderstanding - they are afraid they will get sued and they now don’t know if they can trust you!

Perhaps one of those websites which showcase loads of different designs is searchable for a key word like “green” and you can just quickly demonstrate that it’s not actually a copy, it’s just another green site … ?

ignore the complaint and move on.