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Myles H. Alderman Jr., of Hartford’s Alderman & Alderman, said his client had copyrighted her site’s content before discovering Internet users were being diverted to a copycat site. Leona Brenner was perplexed. Calls to her Manchester, Conn.-based Expert Auction Services had slowed down substantially last winter. The two-year-old Internet company still had its existing clientele. But after averaging 7-10 new callers a day, new business all but dried up. A couple months later, Brenner finally found out why: Her Web site, at www.expertauctionservices.com, had been hijacked. A California firm, she claims, copied the site, from its design features and “html” code to the “meta tags” used to identify the site for search engines, such as Google. Now, when customers looked on the Internet for help selling their items on eBay, they no longer found Brenner’s company. They were directed to www.emoon-web.com instead. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Brenner. “They used my copyright. If you’re going to swipe something, you shouldn’t use somebody else’s copyright.” But just as an Internet search had shown she was a victim of fraud, another online search proved critical to her site’s rescue. Scouring the Internet for lawyers, Brenner stumbled across Hartford’s Alderman & Alderman. Myles H. Alderman Jr. was aghast by what he heard. “This was Plagiarism 101,” he proclaimed in an interview last week with The Law Tribune. “Physically it looked like [Brenner's] Web site. … There was no gray area. It was black and white.” Expert Auction Services works with car dealers and antique sellers, among others, to post their items for sale on eBay, the hugely successful Internet auction site. “Usually when there are copycats, it’s done in a subtle enough manner that they can claim they didn’t know,” Alderman noted. But in this case, “[t]hey copied the whole thing, including the copyright notice,” he said. “We’ve run across cases before of meta tag copying, which is a much grayer issue,” Alderman added. “Some of these tags may not be copyrightable.” On the other hand, “stealing a block of html code is a [copyright] violation because of the written text,” he said. According to Alderman, Anthony Carrillo, of Mi-Wuk, Calif., near Yosemite National Park, and another partner, who he did not name, are believed to be responsible for the duplicate site. In March, he sent Carrillo a letter and a fax telling him to desist from operating the Web site. It was taken off the Internet soon thereafter. “It took 24 hours from that fax and the Web site was gone,” Alderman said. Carrillo, he added, never acknowledged either the letter or the fax. Reached by phone in California, Carrillo’s wife, June, couldn’t explain why the two Web sites had identical html language and meta tags. “My husband is very smart with computers and he programmed it himself,” she said. “It was not a copy at all,” June Carrillo insisted. “The color scheme was different. The wording was different. We took it down because it was a first draft. We’ve hired somebody to do something more professional.” But judging on paper print-outs of the two sites provided by Alderman, they bear a strong resemblance to each other. “At first blush, you think you’re looking at the same Web site,” Alderman said. “The logo was the only different thing.” Alderman said his seven-lawyer firm was interested in the case because Brenner’s reputation was a stake, as well as her business. “We can only speculate as to their intent,” he said. “It appears that my client was probably the target for two reasons: eBay was too big of a target and my client’s growth was rapid and attracted attention.” Copycat Web sites are a growing problem, Alderman maintained. “I suspect we’ll see more state attorneys general actions as they get bigger. As far back as you go in history, there’s always somebody looking for a way to scam somebody else.” Unlike many Web site owners, Brenner had taken the preventive measure of copyrighting her site’s content. “There are laymen out there who don’t get what [a] copyright does for them,” Alderman noted. “People should design their Web sites so more of it will be protected by copyright.” Brenner hasn’t quantified her potential losses. “My customers just came back. I had lost business for quite a few months. It certainly cost me something.” Being cut off from eBay can be a huge hit. Last year, the San Jose, Calif.-based company generated consolidated net revenues of $2.17 billion. Listings on eBay totaled a record 971 million, according to company figures. “There may be legal damages to follow,” Alderman said. “We haven’t reached final resolution with them.”

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