Be a Copycat

by daniel on July 28, 2011

Be a Copycat

“I know I could design a better site, but that doesn’t change the fact that the fundamental idea and features are still the same. I don’t want the other site’s owner to feel like I’m copying his site. Has this ever happend to anyone? Should I just scrap my project or go with it? I’m also looking to avoid legal problems.”

This is the question in HackerNews

What is actually the situation?
Good things:

  1. There is market validation – otherwise the site wouldn’t be running.
  2. You have a competitive reference – a guideline for what has been done, its easier to create something unique and different.
  3. You can have an archenemy – like the one described in Coding Horror – Who is your arch-enemy
  4. Most of the value is earned from copycats – see this article from Harvard Business Review (direct link)

Bad things:

  1. Fear of failing – someone already did it, I’m not unique anymore
  2. My product has identifiable competition – there are some expectation set for the product
  3. I will be sued – someone already made it and he can take legal action against me

Some of the negative impacts are real but most are imaginary: the moment there is competition it means you are in the real world, where the product must have uniqueness and be distinct. That doesn’t mean you are out of work, as there are many cases of multitude of products competing (how many TV brands are they?). Regarding the legal action, it depends if there is a patent or if someone will act upon it. If you have fear of being sued, do ask for legal advice, but most of the time legal actions aren’t taken unless there is money to be gained or reputation at stake.
In my opinion, having a competition is actually a benefit as you can use it for improving the product and improving yourself.

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