Facebook’s legal action could discourage web users

Facebook is seeking a jury trial in the USA to get a German web site shut down. Shall I repeat that? It does sound stupid doesn’t it, but as various news services have reported, Facebook is taking the German site StudiVZ to court.

In essence, StudiVZ is a German social networking site which is the 120th most popular site in the world. However, 89% of its users are from Germany and in the USA it is a mere 6,470 in the popularity stakes. The traffic for this site is also relatively static; it has maintained its position for several months now.

Facebook, on the other hand, has constantly growing traffic making it the 5th most popular site in the world. Nine out of every 100 people online go to Facebook. Whereas StudiVZ can only manage four in every 1,000. Clearly then StudiVZ is a major threat to Facebook – not…!

So why is Facebook so worried about it? Well, their court case claims that StudiVZ has used their intellectual property in the form of – wait for it – copying their design. Sorry? Say that again? Facebook is upset that the German web site looks similar to theirs and so they want it shut down? That’s right.

I’m not a lawyer, but as I understand things, there is no copyright in a general design theme, only a specific design. Judge for yourself:



Similar, true, but identical design warranting major court action? Doubtful.

So, what does this mean for the rest of us? Every day I meet people who do not want to put things on their web site for the fear of their knowledge and intellectual property being ripped off. They are concerned that they won’t get any business if people can find out, for free, what they know – and if other people can copy it and use it.

The Facebook nonsense merely fuels that fear. It means fewer people will be encouraged to use the Internet for their business in ways which can truly support them and help them gain increased income. The world’s top gurus in business repeatedly say that the more they “give away” of their intellectual property, the more business they get. In other words, the more you make your knowledge and information available on the web, the more likely it is that people will use you because they can see what you are about.

People already fearful of exposing their intellectual property will now be saying “Ah, see, even something as public as Facebook gets ripped off; my stuff will be bound to get stolen.” And then they will do nothing online and wonder why their business suffers.

Consider this – there are thousands of crime writers, but Agatha Christie still outsells them all. Indeed, she is reportedly only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare. The fact of the matter is, however, all crime novels are the same: someone dies, we get glimpses of possible murderers and our hero detective is a maverick who finds the culprit using only instincts. Anything else is just a variation on a theme. So, should Agatha Christie Ltd start a court case and get every other crime novel banned for ripping off her intellectual property?

Clearly that’s patent nonsense. Agatha Christie remains the Number One in her field because they are “her” books. Your web site or online business can be the same as others, it can even look like others, but people will flock to you and use you above all others because it is “you”. In other words, don’t (like Facebook) concentrate on the competition and seek legal redress when you feel aggrieved. Instead, focus on providing what your customers want and you will rise above the competition. And not only that you’ll save tons of cash on legal bills.

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