Shopify sues Shopline for creating a Poundland version of its Dawn theme

Shopify is suing Shopline in a New York federal court, accusing it of illegally copying Shopify’s software to build its own e-commerce platform. Shopline is a Singapore-based subsidiary of the Chinese technology company JOYY Inc.

Shopify claims in the lawsuit that Shopline created a "thinly disguised knockoff" of its Dawn theme to power a competing e-commerce service. The company stated that its Dawn theme "forms the backbone of the way an e-commerce site appears and functions" and that Shopline’s Seed theme copies it "wholesale."

Shopify wrote, "To create Seed, Shopline started by making an unauthorised copy of Dawn, translated that unauthorised copy into a different programming language, and then made cosmetic changes to the Dawn code. From the highest level of overarching organisation to the smallest level of individual lines of code, the evidence of Shopline's copying is overwhelming." It also noted "large swathes" of matching filenames and other elements.

The lawsuit even claims that the "Shopify" name still appears in the code of various versions of Seed that Shopline is distributing, and that Shopify found a Chinese webpage hosted by JOYY with the title "Seed Theme" that still carries headers reading "dawn-test."

Shopify has asked the court for an unspecified amount in damages and a court order blocking the alleged infringement. The company defends its work:

“Shopify merchants can use Dawn to quickly launch a compelling online presence or to design their unique store. It is the product of many thousands of hours of creative effort by Shopify employees and the investment of many millions of dollars, and Dawn is protected by copyrights registered in the United States.”

On one hand: If all that Shopify alleges is true about Seed running identical code, then Shopline is unequivocally guilty and should be forced to pay damages and stop distributing the Seed theme. No software company should have their code blatantly ripped off, repackaged, and resold as a different product. I mean, what is this—a WordPress theme? LOL.

On the other hand: The Dawn theme without the Shopify platform and its extensive App Marketplace integrations is fairly worthless. Let’s not pretend that out-of-the-box, Dawn doesn’t look like every other e-commerce theme on the planet! It sounds like Shopline took a major shortcut, but inevitably it would have visually arrived in a similar place with its storefront—like every other theme developer on every platform in 2024. Shopline should pay for its copyright infringement, but I also don’t think that the courts should overvalue the proprietariness of Dawn’s design.

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