You’ve come up with a brilliant idea for a business and you need a website. A website is your gateway to the world and all your potential customers. But you may not be able to design it yourself which means you’ll have to share your idea with someone who can.
Can a web designer steal your idea? Yes, a web designer can steal your idea if we define an idea as a concept with no tangible form or legal protection. You need to have legal protection with a written contract, like an NDA, that prevents the web designer from stealing it.
How does this work legally? Do you need to hire an attorney just to protect your idea? I cover that and more on the legality of copying an idea or a website and how to prevent it from happening.
Can A Web Designer Steal Your Idea? Can Someone Copy Your Business Idea?
So yes a web designer can steal your idea. That’s not to say you can’t stop them though. Although an idea cannot, on its own be protected. Through written agreements and contracts you can make sure that you are legally protected from someone, like a web designer, from stealing your ideas.
Copyright on its own does NOT protect your business idea. As defined by the US government:
Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the US Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. (Source)
So it needs to be a tangible expression and work that has been created not just an ‘idea’.
To protect an ‘idea’ you need a written agreement between you and the web designer like a non-disclosure agreement or NDA that they sign and agree to. In this contract, you need to state that they cannot share your idea.
How To Use A Nondisclosure Agreement To Keep Others From Sharing Your Idea:
A non-disclosure agreement is a legally binding contract that establishes a confidential relationship between two or more parties where they will not disclose information shared between them to others.
I have used this with my past clients as a web designer in the past to their complete satisfaction. You can simply have a web designer include this non-disclosure agreement as a clause in the original contract for the web design job. This saves you the hassle of creating it yourself and signing multiple different legal documents.
Prevent Others From Stealing Your Ideas And Using Them:
Some other layers of protection you can add on top of an NDA include a non-compete agreement. This is something I constantly use when I outsource work for my own agency.
A non-compete agreement prevents anyone you hire to help you with your business from creating a business that would compete or threaten yours based on whatever factors you determine.
You can also simply include this as a cause in the initial contract for a job like a web design project.
I am not a lawyer and therefore I can’t tell you exactly how any of this will work for your exact situation but as long as you do the things I mentioned above, you should normally be legally protected.
Note: The information provided in this article is not intended to be used as legal counsel, rather it is intended for educational purposes only. Legal advice intended to be used to ensure legal protection should be drafted by an attorney skilled in intellectual property.
A written contract with NDAs and non-compete clauses is the most common method I have seen used in my years of experience working with clients as a web designer.
But to be completely safe legally, maximum protection would obviously require consulting an intellectual property lawyer. You can explain your exact circumstances to them to pursue the best path for you. I completely understand that lawyers are expensive and as such you can find some additional tips that may help you protect your intellectual property here.
Once you have this protection you can work with a web designer to produce a website for your idea. That website on its own then provides protection against people copying you.
Can Someone Steal My Website Idea? Is it Legal to Clone Someone’s Website?
No, it is not legal to clone someone’s website unless it is a generic site with no copyright-protected content. As any original content on the website can potentially be protected under copyright law.
Yes somebody can create a website that uses the same code or themes as you. But they are not legally allowed to duplicate any original content you created for your site. Even coding that is created by you can be considered ‘original’ work and cannot legally be cloned.
By hiring a professional web designer who will create an original website for you. You attain copyright protection that you otherwise would not get using templates, stock photos, and generic content yourself or when hiring cheap web designers from sites like Fiverr.
Web designers on sites like Fiverr and Upwork are constantly using all these generic types of content that compromise your eligibility for copyright despite possibly being against the terms of service of their platforms.
That is why it is best you hire a professional with whom you can discuss a contract for the project on your own terms that you can legally enforce as needed.
Copyright.gov has a detailed document specifically regarding websites that you should definitely look into if you are interested.
One important step to take to reinforce the protection from copyright law is to register your copyright. This registration is filed to the copyright office which creates a public record of your ownership of that work.
This can help protect you in the future against copyright infringement claims from others as registering is needed to file those claims.
Once you’re registered you will be eligible to seek statutory damages and attorney fees in an infringement action against you from others who are copying you.
And this is just the legal protection that is available with copyright law alone.
How To Add Further Legal Protection To Your Website And Online Business:
A professional web designer will guide you on how to do this, do it for you, or connect you with a lawyer who can, all depending on your needs.
Patents and trademarks are types of intellectual property protected through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that require a bit more work to realize.
Patent protection is the right to exclude others from making, using, selling or distributing your invention. For example you can patent how a website functions in its system.
A trademark is used to protect words, names, symbols, sounds and colors that distinguish goods and services of one provider from another in the commercial world.
You can also trademark your brand name to prevent others from using the same or similar brands.
You can trademark something without a lawyer, but it is helpful to have one on your side. You can do it on your own by filing the application with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
You will need to provide certain information about your business or company including contact information, information on where you are located, what class of goods or services the trademark applies to, what trademark you would like to register, detailed description of what will be protected under this trademark.
This will then be reviewed by the USPTO who will notify you of their decision to approve or deny your trademark.
Once it is approved though, you are not done yet!
You can’t just rush to put the ® symbol after your name because your trademark hasn’t yet registered.
Publication begins a 30-day period during which anyone who believes they will be harmed by the registration of your trademark can oppose it.
If no one objects to your trademark during the publication period, your application goes on to the next step of the registration procedure. It has not yet been registered.
It might take three to four months for your trademark to be published and for you to receive official notification that it has either been registered or transferred to the next stage.
You can also file a patent application on your own however this is a more complicated process we’re hiring or using a registered patent attorney is recommended.
The USPTO themselves provides education and resources to help assist those who file patents on their own on their website.
If you are interested in learning more about patents and trademarks, you can read more at the USPTO website here.