Can I stop people from copying my website or stealing my idea?

Under UK law, copyright will automatically exist in any creative work, which includes the text written on a website (if it’s creative.) This means that it’s possible, at least in theory, to stop a person from simply copying your text. However, if someone made a number of changes to your basic text, it’s still possible that they could do this without breaching your copyright.

This rule applies to copy text or content. But stealing another person’s idea is a whole different matter. Generally, there is no copyright or any other intellectual property protection for ideas. Trademarks cover specific words or phrases which then become protected from use by others. Patents cover the invention of creative, functional processes, but do not cover business ideas.

This means there is no protection by law for business ideas. This can also be a good thing because if you wanted to set up a new version of Facebook, or a new search engine platform like Google, you would be perfectly entitled to do so.

But, when you’re the one with a successful business model, obviously the shoe is on the other foot, and ideally, you don’t want other people copying you. But the truth is, once the idea is out there, anyone else is free to copy it. The protection you’ll get as the originator of the idea comes less from the legal perspective, and much more from the practical perspective.

There is something called ‘first mover advantage’, which means that the first person who comes up with an idea, (and who manages to get their idea out their fast enough), then the public associates this new business or product with you and your company. So you’ll generally get much more attention, kudos and credit than the other people out there who come along and copy it later.

As the pioneer of fast-food, McDonalds in its heyday was iconic in a way that no-other fast-food chain could really match, even if they were serving very similar looking food. Much of McDonalds success was simply because they were the first large fast food chain out there.

There are however practical things you can do, like putting in place confidentiality agreements (or NDAs) with your staff members, customers and suppliers. Also, trademarking your company name and any other brand names you’re using in your business can help prevent other people from trying to copy you too closely.

But ultimately, the single best way to outsmart the competition is just to ensure that you keep being the best at what you do.