///Getting Away With Murder: Design Rip-Off Horror Stories

Getting Away With Murder: Design Rip-Off Horror Stories

The other day a friend came across a Myspace page where her modeling photography was being displayed as someone else’s work. She did a double take and then looked again, yup still there and the person had even gone to to the trouble of cropping out her logo and using his own. The audacity!? She wasn’t sure what to do, the guy wasn’t directly profiting off her work, he was using it in his portfolio. When directly emailed about it, she never got a response but after a few days, when she returned to his site the pictures were mysteriously gone leaving us to wonder if any of the guys work was his own. Whatever the case, it worked.

In this case the person was out of the country with no way to actively get in touch. Even if the person had been here, sometimes it’s more costly and time consuming than it’s worth to track down everyone stealing your content.

Another blogger, N.design posted another story about the trend of stealing designs last year:

So, what is the next web trend after the Web 2.0 trend? Steal. I’ve been noticing this trend for a while and in fact it is rising. Rippers now on the Internet steal anything from text content, graphics, icons, design templates, to coding scripts. Almost every other week, I get an email from visitors telling me who stole my work. By the way, thanks for reporting copyright violations to me. This becoming an issue and I really want to bring it up. I have setup a Flickr gallery to showcase the ripped work….Two days after I published this post, someone sent me another email reported my work being stolen by two Bosnia & Herzegovina TV stations – OBN.ba and RTRS.tv. He was nice enough scanned the newspaper ads and sent it to me. Although, I’ve never seen the actual ads but I believe they just ripped my high resolution wallpapers (without any editing). This is ridiculous, from a TV station?

Stuartc1 (a web designer) had this to say:

Last night I was checking my logs and noticed several from some site. I checked this site and found it was almost identical in everyway to my site. They’d stolen my layout, navigation, graphics and text – they have altered a few words here and there… but failed to change some references to my site.

itsdonny (a web designer and photographer) says:

This is unreal to me. This photographer in San Diego, who may even be on this forum completely cloned my site!…His name is David Harding…..He didn’t use my photos but he totally copied my design and copied my content almost word for word.

Just Creative recently compiled a list of more rip-offs. So how do you deal with design theft? Here’s my advice…


The easiest remedy, I’ve found, is to simply give away as much content as possible. I’m always giving away free PSDs and designs at my blog’s gosdot.com and Gos Creative. Why? Because the more I give people, the less likely they are going to feel the need to steal. Sometimes releaseing your work with the Creative Commons “Share-a-like” Attribution is enough to make people think twice. You should also register your work as actual copyrights with the Copyright Office in your country.


The first thing you need to start thinking about once you see what has happened is how you’re going to prove that this other person or company is the liar and not you. Lorelle has some great tips:

You need to be ready to prove that you are the owner of the material in question, so start gathering the proof you may need to prove you are the original owner and the copyright owner. Prepare as many of the following as possible:

* Search Google and screen capture the results showing the original cache file with the date on it showing when it was spidered.
* Print out a copy with the posted date visible.
* Create a screen capture of your MySQL database record with the original post date information.
* Print document information from a word processor of the history of the document (if written in a word processor).
* Screen capture or print copies of dated comments made in response to the original posting.
* Compile copies of notes with dates you may have made in preparing the document or images.
* Create copies of the original, unedited images with the file date.
* Get a notarized copy of the image or article.
* Establish proof of registration with the Copyright Office
* Find witnesses who read your site consistently and will testify to the date of post.
* Comparisons their site pages’ source code with yours to document exactly how much of your content was stolen, including code. Mark it clearly on the printed copies.
* Go through your backup copies of your website and website database to find the oldest copy you can with the stolen material in it.
* Visit Archive – Way Back Machine, part of The Archive, to find past views of your site, possibly highlighting the stolen content.


If you steal my work and I find out about it I won’t sue you. I won’t call or threaten you, or call you to beg for mercy or anything else. To be honest, you’re not worth my time and I’m flattered. What I will do, however, is take whatever body of work you created with my stuff and add it to my own portfolio with a note or description mentioning that “my work was used here”. Now your ripped-off work becomes part of my portfolio and if you’re dumb enough to have a problem with it now I’m wasting your time.


Although, I could care less about people stealing my work or content, there are certainly more knowledgeable and more powerful people out there who will sometimes take pity on you and help you retaliate. It helps to make friends with hackers (wink, wink). In the case of N.Design that worked well enough.


Of course if you aren’t as cavalier as me, there are a few ways to make a thief cry him or herself to sleep at night. Here are the steps to take if you want to punish this person severely.

  1. Contact Their Advertisers
    It’ll hurt most if you hit them in the pockets. Send a polite, brief letter explaining what’s occurred that other actions you’re taking against the person and any other pertinent legal information to their advertisers (if they have any). If they’ve got direct relationships with companies that purchase ads from them, they’ll think twice about doing business with the offender and may even immediately pull their spots.
  2. Contact Their Web Host
    I you threaten their web host with legal action and you claim is strong enough, it won’t matter what the thief says or does because that site is coming down.
  3. Send a Cease and Desist
    Legalese is intimidating to most people. First email your official cease and desist letter. If that doesn’t work a few weeks later find out who the site is registered to and send that person the letter. Usually the threat of legal action is enough to scare the piss out of a crook.
  4. Report the Page to Search Engines
    Another one that will really hit your villain where it hurts is if you make his site invisible to the rest of the world. E-mailing the major search engines and explaining the situation with copies of your Cease and Desist letters may get their site marked as a malicious, ruin their page rank and ad sense revenue. This one isn’t likely to work (unless you can really make a case for yourself) but it’s worth a shot.

At the end of the day, don’t let it bother you too much. At some point, especially for web and graphic designers, you have to put up your blinders and ignore the potential hazards of being a successful designer. Otherwise your fear will keep you from taking advantage of all the wonderful things that have happened to design BECAUSE of the internet.

2010-05-25T21:48:11+00:00 May 29th, 2008|Design|7 Comments

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  1. Laura May 30, 2008 at 2:00 PM

    I really like the idea of adding stolen works to your portfolio! Smart :)

  2. Janko May 31, 2008 at 1:01 AM

    Yeah, I agree on that, excellent idea! What a great article!

  3. Mike Robinson June 2, 2008 at 8:05 AM

    Great post. I’ve yet to have any of my designs stolen (as far as I know!) but I have had content stolen and images leeched. I did blog about it and eventually the content was taken down, but only after several comments, emails and some image replacement. The image they leeched from me didn’t have width and height restrictions, so I uploaded a huge banner stating that the content was stolen and that I wanted it down.

    Don’t tolerate having your content stolen, give ’em hell!

  4. TVSpy June 2, 2008 at 6:06 PM

    Well I was on a host that I was set to leave and move to another host. The owner started snooping through my stuff (didn’t know it at the time), then the guy started contacting me and asking me how my site ran (mind you this was a pretty cool php cms script system) and not thinking much of it I explained it in brief to him. It was a stupid mistake on my part but I didn’t think he would try to steal my site. Turns out the guy went around to other forums took my script around the time I left and was trying to sell my script to others. When I found out I contacted him and he made up this BS excuse about how he was a designer and he wasn’t trying to sell my stuff, but just selling the subdomain I had been using.

    I didn’t believe him, but I let it go. Then I later found a few forum posts he had made where it was clear he was trying to sell the site – in fact even said “I’m selling the script” and he went on to say how he didn’t create it and that it was someone on his host, and he then proceeded to describe what I had explained to him about how it worked (only I had only told him minute details so he didn’t have the full picture). In case you’re wondering, the host/guy was Synced.org – unbelievable, I haven’t contacted the guy since – I don’t think he made a sale on it, but still what a sleazebag.

  5. kristarella June 2, 2008 at 6:31 PM

    Smart post, good tips.

    I was about to post about a rip this week, but I wanted to give the target a chance and emailed him warning him (I know, I’m such a softy). He took the ripped design down and I told him where to get high quality free designs.

    Many people are cavaleir and malicious in stealing designs and content… unfortunately some are just stupid and don’t understand plagarism.

  6. JonGos June 3, 2008 at 11:51 AM

    @TVSpy, that’s pretty incredible. I’d go out of my way to punish someone who lied to my face about stealing!

  7. Dave C June 11, 2008 at 11:10 AM

    If you end up in a situation like Stuartc1 where the thief is still hot-linking to your site, a great revenge technique it to rename those files for your own site, and then swap in any content you want to serve to his site from annoying to stupid to totally offensive. :-)


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