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Blatant website plagiarism is not flattery

Posted on Wednesday June 9, 2010

I can’t quite put my finger on it. Now where have I seen this before?

It probably happens more than people think and published about online. It’s something that is in the back for your mind if you’re a freelancer…no it’s not winning a D&AD yellow pencil. It’s the fear of your site being ripped off completely and not knowing what to do about it.

Lets make it clear, I’m not talking about subtle differences and taking design inspiration from a site. I’m talking about blatant site rip offs.

It happened to me at the beginning of the year when my site was copied in its entirety albeit with some very minor text changes. I was notified by the twitter community that my site was being ripped off.

In the end I had no choice but to hire a solicitor to represent me and 2 letters were sent out. One was a cease and desist letter and the other was an undertaking to sign acting as an injunction. Both offender and the hosting company were sent copies of the letters. That was enough of a threat and forced the hosting company to take down the site.

Why send a cease and desist to the hosting company?
If the hosting company continues to host the site on it’s server, it amounts to a secondary infringement of copyright and the victim is entitled to take action for an injunction and damages in respect of their continued hosting of the offending site.

Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery

Should I have turned a blind eye and got on with life? No. It’s a load of rubbish when someone consoles you by saying “copying is the sincerest form of flattery”. Reasons why I chose to take action:

1. It’s damaging to the brand I have built up.
2. It’s damaging my reputation as an artist.
3. Someone else is claiming all the credit for work they have never done.
4. You don’t deserve to be called a designer if you just copy someone else’s work
5. It’s not easy coming up with original ideas.
6. It can take away traffic and potential revenue.

Steps to take if it happens to you

1. Do some research: Do a WHOIS search on the domain. You’ll find out what company they are using to host their domain, and their domain registrar. It will also provide the offenders address and details. Be wary that they could provide false details so some more digging around may be needed to make sure you are satisfied you have got the correct person.

2. Spread the word: Use social media networks to let people know. In turn they might RT and spread your tweet or message like wildfire. Sometimes this may force them to take the site down out of sheer embarrassment.

3. Make contact: Send a non-threatening but firm email to the website owner. Remember not all cases of plagiarism, copyright infringement or content theft involve malicious intent. The design might have been outsourced and therefore owners might not know plagiarism has taken place. So, keep this in mind when writing your email. You should request them to remove the content within 24 hours or you will take further action.

In cases where an honest mistake has been made or when they have been embarrassed by the design community, the plagiarised material will be removed fairly quickly. In cases where the intent is to steal, don’t hold your breath on getting a response.

4. Last chance: If your first attempt does not bring results, contact the offending website a second time. If your requests still go unanswered, contact the web hosting company and domain name registrar. Ask them to remove the offending website. They will probably ask you to send a letter signed by a solicitor so that they don’t get grief from the website owner. Keep copies of emails as evidence that you have tried to ask nicely.

5. Send a cease and desist letter: A cease and desist letter can be sent to the owners of the offending site and the hosting company in an attempt to remove copyright or trademark infringement before resorting to legal action. In my case, I hired a solicitor to represent me and they drafted a cease and desist, and undertaking letters. This makes it official and handing it over to a professional solicitor takes a weight of your shoulders.

Hopefully, at this point, the offending website is taken down and no further action is necessary.

Outcome

After over a month of stress, the case is now closed and the solicitors have a happy client. The offending site was eventually taken down by the hosting company by force of admission on the eve of the deadline set before proceeding court action. Obviously, it’s impossible to police plagiarism and if it wasn’t for milesdowsett notifying me, I would probably have never known about it and missrachilli for taking the time and effort to help me with the whole situation. I’m convinced that without the help of the design community, design pirates would no doubt get away with it.

Hosting companies should definitely do more than their “tell it to someone who cares” attitude. No pointing fingers (Streamline.net)! They love to talk to you if you want hosting or to spam you with emails. It’s also annoying when they are difficult to get hold of for anything other than sales.

In Hindsight

The only thing I would do differently is to ensure I gathered all the evidence in the form of screen-shots just in case they tweak anything afterwards. I would also note down the dates of builds and amends of my own website. This would have sped up the process of presenting a strong case to the solicitors that you were copied and not the other way around. I say this because some solicitors I spoke to were so suspicious they would not take the case. You need to present them with hard factual evidence.

Further reading

JCD has some resources on how to deal with plagiarism and what to do if your design is stolen: http://justcreativedesign.com/2008/05/28/graphic-design-plagiarism-rip-offs-2/

Boagworld article on Design and copy pirates: Should you care?
http://boagworld.com/random/copy-theft

What do you think?

I hope this article has been useful. What’s your opinion? Has site plagiarism happened to you? Please share your experiences in the comments below…

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10 Comments on "Blatant website plagiarism is not flattery"

Aaron Russell wrote on 9 June 2010, 07:16

Wow that is blatant isn’t it?!! I’m glad you managed to get some action out of them though and that they took it down.

Can I ask, was hiring a solicitor expensive and did you feel that they did a more effective job then if you’d cobbled together some appropriately worded Cease and Desist yourself?

Toby Powell wrote on 9 June 2010, 07:20

Hi Albert, I know the feeling, it’s happened to my personal site no less than 4 times now… well 4 times that I know of: http://twitpic.com/photos/tobypowell

I completely agree with your article, it is difficult pill to swallow, and i had the old flattery line a few times too, but its not good enough!

well done on getting the site taken down, I’ve been a bit luckier and a few stern emails and lots of tweeting have usually done the trick

Albert Lo wrote on 11 June 2010, 08:09

@Aaron – Hiring a solicitor is like buying any kind of insurance, you need to shop around as every solicitors will quote you a different price. The main thing is you need to have confidence in choosing a solicitor, know their processes and understand their plan of action. You pay for what you get so I think it’s money well spent.

I chose a local solicitor that specialises in copyright laws that I could meet face to face and see them if there were any implications or further action was needed i.e. taking the person to court. I also chose a solicitor that I could use for other services and build up a relationship with as they would understand my business.

By sending an official Cease and Desist letter from a solicitor makes the offender take notice as they have the power to take serious action i.e. taking them to court and pay damages etc rather than someone sending a letter which they could simply ignore.

Adarsh Rao wrote on 11 June 2010, 08:50

Wow, Nice Article……

btw : got you from “practical web design” october 2008 issue :D

Harry wrote on 27 October 2010, 21:14

I just wanna say, your site is inspiring
i’m inspired to make a web portofolio too after visit your site, but dont worry i’m not gonna make a copy of your site, i know how your feeling about plagiarism.

but i must admit, your header design is great. keep the good work albert.
:D

Sinead O'Toole wrote on 14 April 2011, 17:32

Hi Albert!

I’m a Multimedia Design student in Belfast and I’m currently designing a website for an Arts project. I was looking through a number of websites for some inspiration and came across yours. Really like the layout! I want to include a news page in my website as well as an RSS feed to show my news update to subscribers. Basically, the way you have done it in yours with your blog. Did you make your blog on WordPress? I can easily code my XML but the I have no idea where to go from there. Hopefully you can help me or even recommend a few websites that could be useful.

Many Thanks,

Sinead

Cristi Cotovan wrote on 19 May 2011, 07:10

First of all, great site you have here — no wonder they wanted to copy it!

Secondly, you have to agree it is tempting to copy a design, but I mean, copying pixel-for-pixel is downright insulting…

Partly, not that I have anything against them, I think the multitude of ‘css-inspiration-showcase’ types of websites have quite a large part to play in this. While they do help bring exposure to your site in the community and even bring you clients, they are a place where plagiators spend their time and make it easy to find, browse, compare, filter possible ‘victims’ :) . Keep up the good work nonetheless.

Albert Lo wrote on 24 May 2011, 17:24

@Cristi – I always knew in the back of my mind if the was being exposed on a css gallery site there might have been a chance it would be copied to some degree or even inspire a style of some kind.

Theres a fine line between copying a style and blatant copying, as it’s been a while now that this has happened it’s probably time I redesign the site from the ground up again.

JohnQ wrote on 2 August 2011, 11:54

Woah, that’s one full-blown plagiarism! I have to say, that person had the time in the world to copy your site.

Jason Grant wrote on 4 November 2011, 06:55

Very nice. I would love if someone ripped my design off. I’m not that good yet visually. :-)

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