How I Learned to Love the DMCA

Galen

Apr 6

Uncategorized

We’ve read about startups having their design, code, and content ripped off, but it didn’t prepare us for the emotions we felt when it happened to us. Take heart, startups! Below is a story of how a startup took a big step protecting their IP — in just 36 hours.

Over the last two days I have been getting a lot of questions about our relationship with the largest real estate brokerage in Canada, Sutton West Coast (our cease and desist order was covered by Geekwire yesterday). For the past three years, Estately powered Sutton West Coast’s real estate search. We mutually agreed in November of 2011 to end our relationship and that they would have through March to transition to a new site. We offered multiple times to help them select a new vendor and to give them feedback on the product they were building as we wanted to ensure a smooth transition (we were declined on all fronts).

Last week we were surprised to see the new search hosted by their new vendor at search.suttonwestcoast.com. It made extensive use of our IP, including our design, HTML, images, CSS and Javascript. The site was not merely a near-perfect clone of Estately from November 2011, it was a clone that uses our code and copyrighted materials.

Obviously no startup wants a clone of their front-end intensive website floating around out there. The list of ways it can damage your business, your opportunities and your ability to raise capital and eventually sell is too long for a single blog post (just imagine reaching out to a reporter only to have them ask you why you copied another site or imagine trying raise money when a perfectly identical site is out there – Yowza!).

Last week we tried to work things out with Sutton West Coast. I started with a simple phone call. They said they were surprised to learn that their product was a virtual clone of Estately and that they would look into it and call us back. It seemed odd, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I ended the call feeling confident they would pull it offline and we’d be all set by morning.

A day later, we hadn’t heard from them. I tried the phone again (no answer) and decided we needed to get something in writing before the weekend and we realized that meant a cease and desist letter. I always assumed the first cease and desist order I would see would be from a big company using it to oppress my startup, not that I would be issuing it to protect us.

We ended up waiting all weekend and most of Monday in silence. I called again and this time got their CEO who told me they didn’t know if the site was a copy and that they would get back to me when they had looked into it more. Then nothing for the next day and a half.

We were getting stalled.

So finally we did something I never thought I would do: issued our own DMCA takedown notice.

The DMCA is the only law I know that operates at startup speed: Amazon responded within 36 hours and took down the infringing materials.

The DMCA isn’t a panacea (some parts are horrible), but it has some real strengths that level the playing field for startups and make running a business efficient. In particular:

  • Accessibility: We filed a DMCA takedown notice with just one or two hours of work. Attorneys are optional. In a DMCA-free world, our IP could have continued floating around for weeks before a court would hear us and we would need to spend thousands of dollars on attorneys leading up to that point.
  • Speed: Big companies can bury a startup like Estately in paperwork and distractions and can run up a big legal bill in advance of a judgement. Distraction is bad for big companies, but it can kill a startup. The speed of the DMCA means we can get back to work building a business.

The law is supposed to create a level playing field and good law should be clear enough that court cases should be safe and rare. The DMCA passes that test with flying colors.

Are we in the clear? No. Sutton West Coast is a big company – they’re the biggest real estate brokerage in Canada with over 1,700 real estate agents spread across 17 offices – and they could move their hosting to somewhere outside the reach of US law tomorrow.

I never thought I would utter these words, but this week I was thankful for the DMCA.

 

A few screenshots for the curious:

 

More Screenshots and a code sample below:

 

 

Related Articles

Estately Burger Map

America’s 5 Best and Worst Cities for Hamburgers

Saturday is National Hamburger Day, and here at Estately, we take burgers very seriously. So seriously in fact, that we combed through Yelp data to create this attractive map of America's best and worst cities for burgers.

Read more
WA homeowner costs

What do Residents in Washington’s 25 Largest Cities Spend on Housing?

The general rule of homeownership is you shouldn't spend more than 28% of your income on housing. While that number is somewhat arbitrary, it certainly doesn't match what many Washington state residents are paying during a time of skyrocketing home prices.

Read more
635fd990-0e14-11e6-81e0-501282498df4

Boston-area home prices by transit stop

It's no secret Boston-area home prices are among the highest in the country, but Estately wanted to show how those prices vary depending on which transit stop a home is near. To do this, Estately analyzed the last six months of home sales within a half-mile radius of each Boston-area transit stops.

Read more
beer map

The United States of Beer—A Rebuttal to Budweiser’s America

The King of Beers may be the brand most synonymous with America internationally, but the United States of America is 50 states strong, and each individual state deserves to be paired with a beer that best represents it. Here are Estately's suggestions...

Read more
59_959759_20_1460041815_636x435

7 U.S. Homes For Sale That Come With Outhouses

Once a necessary amenity for any home, the outhouse has been cast off by most, but not all, homeowners. Some homes have no shame in advertising their outdoor bathrooms so Estately searched thousands of real estate listings to find some of the best.

Read more
mom map

Mom-related terms each state Googles more than any other

Mother's Day is nearly upon us so Estately set out to see how Americans differ when it comes to Google searches related to Mother's Day, motherhood, celebrity moms, fictional moms, and all things mom-related.

Read more
Stanford_University_Palm_Drive_facing_Palo_Alto

18 Things You Should Know Before Moving to Palo Alto

Palo Alto is home to a couple of small tech companies you may have heard of - Facebook, Google and Hewlett Packard just to name a few. If you want to work a tech company and want to live near where you work, Palo Alto is a good place to be.

Read more
BART_metro_affordability-e7c195e403574e9fdd31a48cf0bc6a3a3b3ff605445bf410d200f82b8418128f_gif

Bay Area home prices by transit stop

It's no secret Bay Area home prices are among the highest in the country, but Estately wanted to show how those prices vary depending on which BART or Caltrain stop a home is near. To do this, Estately Real Estate Search analyzed the last six months of home sales for houses, townhouses, and condos that were within a one-mile radius of each BART and Caltrain transit stop.

Read more
providence-rhode-island-skyline

20 Things You Should Know Before Moving to Providence, Rhode Island

Providence, Rhodes Island – the New England mecca of history, creativity, and education. Fall in love with its gorgeous fall foliage and bustling cultural offerings. If you're considering relocating to Providence, here are a few things you should know first...

Read more
DC9631255 - Sun Drenched Observatory

Barbecuing with Barack: You Can Be Obama’s Neighbor

As November nears and President Obama’s second term comes to a close, the first family prepares to bid farewell to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What this means for you dreamers and schemers out there, is a rare chance to become Barry’s neighbor and best friend.

Read more