In Michael Gotowala’s line of work, aesthetics are everything. He and his employees design and create luxurious outdoor living spaces – curb appeal that has won his company, Preferred Properties, accolades from lighting professionals nationwide.
Those aesthetics translate on the digital platform, too.
“The visual presentation of a website for our profession is of the utmost,” said Gotowala. “I put my whole life into that.”
So when Gotowala saw Barretta’s Enterprises, one of his competitors, boasting identical photographs, awards won and testimonials as Preferred Properties, he took it personally.
“There are over 100 pages verbatim of my projects interwoven into his website,” said Gotowala.
Photographers own the rights to the photos they take, according to intellectual property attorney Patrick Fahey.
“If we’re taking somebody else’s property and using that to give the consumer the misconception that we’re that person, then that implicates unfair trade practices and unfair competition,” said Fahey.
Fahey does not represent Gotowala, but he has practiced copyright and trademark law for 18 years.
“There’s a significant misperception among individuals that if they can get it and take it, then that’s okay. And unfortunately for them, that’s fundamentally wrong,” said Fahey.
Howard Schwartz of the Connecticut Better Business Bureau agrees.
“The currency in the marketplace is trust,” said Schwartz. “It’s very difficult to earn and very easy to lose.”
He adds, Barretta’s has lost his trust, too. The name ‘Better Business Bureau,’ its logo and even ‘The BBB’ are registered trademarks, so companies can only use it if they’re a member. Barretta’s claims that accreditation on its website, which simply isn’t true.
“It hurts,” said Schwartz. “It hurts especially because business owners work especially hard to get a good reputation, and because consumers are looking to trust a company with whom they’re doing business.”
Consumers might also think Barretta’s has a license specifically for lighting, since their website shows awards only those with a landscape lighting license can earn. Gotowala said it took him years to earn his L-5 low voltage license, and you can find its verification through the Department of Consumer Protection.
But when you search for Barretta’s, nothing comes up.
“Low-voltage lighting, without the correct knowledge and placement of work ethics, you can burn someone’s house down,” said Gotowala.
The Troubleshooters reached out to Barretta’s repeatedly through phone and email, and even stopped by their brick-and-mortar location in Derby. Owner Chris Barretta didn’t return any of our phone calls and wasn’t available to speak on camera.
He did email us, saying he’s never heard of Preferred Properties nor is he aware of the allegations.
“I do not handle my own website but have passed this information onto the company that does. I have demanded that if said information is on my site, to remove it immediately,” he said in the email.
The Troubleshooters also asked for the name and contact information of Barretta’s web designer, but he has not yet responded. Whoever handles the website has since removed some pages, including information about the company’s landscape lighting projects.
Still, questions linger for Gotowala.
“I’m wondering what his staff thinks when they look at their company website and say, ‘I’ve never seen one of these jobs,’” said Gotowala.