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Let's say I make a website, using my own words, and simple facts (We will call it Simple Math, so the article is about the basics of adding and subtracting, and the facts are math facts).

As I make this website, I pay close attention to make sure that I am not copying mathsite1.com. After I publish the site, mathsite2.com sends me an email saying I infringed their copyright. When I visit their site, their article is similar, but not exactly the same (Using different words and explanations, but the same basic outline).

What would happen?

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There are a numbed of possibilities. Depending on just how close the Simple Math site is to mathsite2.com, it may or may not be infringing.

If the similarity is just coincidence and no use was made of mathsite2.com, there is legally no infringement. But others including a court might believe that there had been copying. If mathsite2.com was one of the sources used to create Simple Math, perhaps the creator unconsciously copied more than s/he intended. That might or might not be infringement depending on the detailed facts.

The operator of the Simple Math site might think there is no infringement, and be unwilling to change. In that case the operator of mathsite2.com might send a takedown notice to the host of the Simple Math site, or perhaps file a copyright infringement suit in a US Federal (district) Court. Either is likely to involve significant trouble, and perhaps expense, for the operator of the Simple Math site. (Or mathsite2.com might just drop the matter.)

Or the operator might be willing to change some things so that there is no longer a close resemblance between Simple Math and mathsite2.com. It might be wise to respond to the email offering to make such changes while not admitting that any infringement occurred. If the operators of mathsite2.com will be satisfied by such changes, that may well simply end the matter.

If they are not satisfied, there may be further negotiations. The operator of the Simple Math site might be wise to consult a lawyer with copyright expertise. It may be wise to make and post the changes even if the operators of mathsite2.com are not dully satisfied, as this can reduce their claim for damages.

The operators of mathsite2.com could choose to sue even if changes are made, claiming that the Simple Math site infringed in its earlier form, or perhaps even that it still does.

If they sue, there will be various preparations and procedures, and eventually each side will present its evidence in the case, and a judge or jury will decide the matter. By that point most people would long since have engaged a lawyer. While it is legal to represent oneself, it is often unwise to do so in a complex suit where significant sums might be at stake.

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  • Makes sense, thanks! Nov 15, 2021 at 22:17
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    It is worth mentioning that ending up with identical text as website2 without ever seeing it would not be a copyright infringement since no copying was done. doesn’t mean they don’t sue you. Nov 16, 2021 at 0:04
  • Quite true, @George White but I find it hared to believe in truly identical text (of any significant length) unless copied or from some common source, and a court might feel the same way. It is possible in theory, but not truly practical. Besides the Q reads: "their article is similar, but not exactly the same (Using different words and explanations,..." so this is nor really relevant to this Q. Nov 16, 2021 at 0:42
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    @DavidSiegel Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. There are significant subsets of text where there are functional and procedural reasons that this could happen, particularly if you limit yourself to content and not font style and formatting, etc. Lots of legal documents, for example, can have very large blocks of identical text for these kinds of reasons.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 16, 2021 at 19:54
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    @DavidSiegel I agree that they are infringements because they aren't copied from the identical work (or the copyright protected portion of the identical work, for example, if there is a quote from caselaw). Just pointing out that text is a lot less random than a monkeys at typewriters model would lead you to believe.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 16, 2021 at 20:05
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It is not a copyright violation unless it is actually derived from another work. It is just happens to be the same, it isn't a violation. For most copyrightable works worth suing over, this is almost impossible. But it does happen.

Suits involving competing claims of independent creation v. copying usual involve pop song lyrics that are short and have internal logic and genre conventions that converge on similar expressions, involving people who have interacted slightly prepublication of the money making work and travel in the same musical circles. Sometimes the similarity is due to unconscious imitation, sometimes it is due to bold theft, sometimes it is coincidence when everyone has similar incentives and musical precedents to work from.

A court would weigh the evidence after depositions and sworn statements and document discovery reveal the facts that will be presented at trial. (Only no one would sue in the original question case because there wouldn't be enough money at stake to make it worthwhile.)

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  • In plain English: No, not unless the intention is to copy. Because it just happened to be close to the same, it is not infringement, correct? "sometimes it is coincidence when everyone has similar incentives and musical precedents to work from." That would not be copyright, correct? Nov 15, 2021 at 21:15
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    @Greenreader9 No, coincidence without copying would not be infringement (which is the term for a violation of copyright or trademark). But where there is significant similarity, people may believe copying rather than coincidence, and it can be hard to disprove or counter claims of copying, when there is considerable similarity. As ohwilleke correctly points out an actual suit over a math website would be unlikely, because it wouldn't be worth the cost. But it is possible, and US law does provide for statutory damages without proof of economic loss. Nov 15, 2021 at 21:43
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    @Greenreader9 Not just "intention to copy", you have to actually copy and not just independently produce the same work. (In contrast, there can be patent and trademark infringement even for an independently produced work.) Even if it was perfectly identical, the result would be the same if it wasn't actually copied.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 15, 2021 at 22:20
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    @Greenreader9 there are lots of videos using copyright-protected material whose creators add meaningless disclaimers like "no copying intended" that don't protect the creator at all. Nonetheless, unintentional copyright infringement is indeed possible. In addition to lyrics, there is also melody: a tune might pop into a composer's head and the composer might think it is a flash of inspiration when in reality it might be the memory of a song heard at an earlier time and (except for this subconscious memory of the tune) otherwise forgotten.
    – phoog
    Nov 16, 2021 at 10:40
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    @phoog Good point. Actually copying, with or without an intent to copy, as opposed to coincidentally creating something, is the relevant legal standard.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 16, 2021 at 19:52

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