That's what one law firm discovered recently.
Gordon & Doner, a Palm Beach Gardens personal injury law firm, discovered that virtually their entire web site at www.fortheinjured.com had been copied and reposted on GoDaddy.com by an unknown person, choicefully changing certain key contact data but not hardly anything else. If you didn't know better, you'd think it was them.
And that was the problem. If you were an injured client in search of the law firm, which one would you trust to be the right one? Likely, you'd give up and go somewhere else.
The fake site supposedly was for maslinassociates.com, a purported law firm in Manchester, England, and was copied wholesale right down to minor phrasing. But names were changed and dollar signs were changed to pounds and the law firm's home city was changed.
The site was up about a month before GoDaddy removed it after the Gordon law firm sued them and "John Doe", the unknown web site copycat culprit, for copyright infringement and everything else a good lawyer can think of, and for good reason. GoDaddy isn't talking. And who knows who John Doe really was. And who knows how much damage was done before it was discovered.
Don't let this happen to you. So how do you protect yourself?
First, search your name and web site phrases periodically to see if your content or your entire site is being used without permission. It also keeps you aware of what others are saying about you. Actually, you can set up a Google Alert that will email you whenever your requested search terms are used and that makes it even easier. How to use Google Alert is explained here: http://www.google.com/alerts
Next. post a copyright notice on every page of your web site. Let there be no misunderstanding about the matter.
The point is that you want to say you own the site content and you don't allow anyone else to use it without permission and that using your site is an agreement that the site visitor won't do that. Of course, being lawyers, we'll dress up the language into lots more, but that's the basics.
And while you are at it, why not post a disclaimer too. One that says there is no attorney-client relationship except on the stated terms that you will agree to, such as a retainer, etc. It's just good common sense.
Oh, and those Florida lawyers at Gordon & Doner, can you guess how they found out about the fake website that had copied their own site? One of the partners googled his name.
Protect yourself and your property. It's something we lawyers often tell our clients. Don't forget to say it to yourself once in awhile too.