Can you really hold copyright to a business model/idea/concept, and disallow others from duplicating it? If not, then how is
On The Sampler's (a company that collects samples of arts & crafts and distributes them to buyers who buy a random box at a time) FAQ
, one question goes:
I love the idea of the Sampler! Can I create my own Sampler!?
The crafty community is full of all kinds of swap programs! Certainly you are welcome to create your own sort of swap, but please don't copy the Sampler outright! Using our concept and simply changing the name is still copying! Especially when you say things like "I'm starting my own Sampler" it's SORT OF A TIP-OFF.
The business model of the Sampler is something unique and something I've worked very hard to create, maintain and also very hard to defend! Though the Sampler is wicked fun and super friendly, please remember that it is still a business, and, as such, will be subject to and will appeal to all the laws that are applicable to defend it. The Sampler name, logo and the combination of the two are subject to US trademark laws.
Then in the Craftster forums, someone asks about starting her own Sampler to increase access to sample subscriptions, the original founder shows up and states that doing another Sampler would hurt her feelings
as she said she "worked very hard" on the concept.
Does she actually have a right to be the only owner of a Sampler-type business? There are many companies doing gift-sample businesses (and The Sampler has provided gift bags for people like MTV), and there are many different types of fast food, of book stores, of hairdressers, etc etc. All essentially providing the same service. (One poster in that thread argues as such.)
What makes The Sampler different? Is it because it is in a relatively close-knit (excuse the pun) community where the target audience for such a product would be familiar with the original? Does Marie (The Sampler's founder) actually have any right under the law to sue anyone else that does a Sampler-type business? Does she legally have any leg to stand on?
What if I start a Sampler to, say, create and distribute samples for Malaysian crafters. Malaysians can't buy Samplers (they ship to limited countries) and there isn't such a thing here, so I start one. Would Marie be able to sue me considering her Sampler isn't actually in competition to mine?
I just don't see how it's possible for her to claim that The Sampler, nice idea that it is, is totally hers and no one can go and make their own Sampler deal. For one thing, I can't buy her Sampler, so if I want one I'd have to make my own! It also seems ridiculous to put a limitation on expanding the Sampler concept when there are also limits to who can contribute and which countries can purchase.
Have any other companies/industries gone through the same issues in terms of holding claim to business models? How has it been for them?