How Do You Deal With A Stolen Design

I’ve had a big dilema this week. Someone ripped off a design I paid dearly for. They said they did it in admiration. But my investment has basically been watered down by the theft. That’s what it is plain and simple. As probloggers we shouldn’t have to deal with this. But alas we do.

This stuff has been happening so often these days I have no way to stay on top of it. In this case I’ve been laid back and haven’t ripped into the person. In days past I would have.

But I’m stumped neither I,nor the designer are happy about it. And yet the person who ripped us off doesn’t seem to understand what they’ve done.

Maybe because I’m so into design I can’t understand it. But what compels people to take CSS modify it slightly and claim it as their own without attribution?

Maybe if I could understand the psychology of it, then it would help. But I merely can’t and probably will never understand.

I need some advice. How should I proceed next? I’m still not happy after conversations, emails, and the like.

14 thoughts on “How Do You Deal With A Stolen Design

  1. I’ve seen it in the comments here, and other places when this sort of issue has come up: you don’t need lawyers to resolve these issues and you don’t need C&D’s. The DMCA sucks beyond all belief, but it’s a bloggers friend when someone rips you off. No need for a lawyer, a DMCA notice to the host fixes the issue as long as the site doing the wrong thing is hosted in the United States. I’m not a lawyer, but I can say that a DMCA notice is easy to put together and send…very easy actually. You fill in the parts which show the original work and the copied work…anyone can do that, and send it. I say to everyone here, don’t waste your money on lawyers!

  2. We haven’t come across anyone ripping our design, but then again, our site is 6 years old and, for the most part, table based (I can hear the children screaming now). On the other hand, we encounter 2-3 sites a week that have stole our content. The only way to handle it is swift and strong. Send a Cease & Desist letter to them and CC the webhost, Google, and Yahoo. If they fail to take it down or change the design, file formal complaints with the SE’s — and follow it through. If you allow one person to slip through, the gates will open. We have found t’s the only effective way to handle it. Remember, ignorance is not a valid reason.

  3. This is indicative of what I call the WordPress generation.

    Because WP is free, and some stunningly beautiful and simple templates are free too, including those by Chris Pearson, people think it’s fair game to steal and I bet in some cases (not all) they probably don’t even realise they’re stealing. Why? Because WP is free, like I said.

    Obviously they need educating.

    You’re in a strong position because you can threaten to expose them publicly and perhaps even leverage the designer to expose them also, after all, it’s his/her work too.

  4. Well, I honestly can’t speak about (or from) personal experience, since my designs are so bad that no one would bother stealing them. Heh.

    But still, the advice above is sound. Gather evidence, prepare a DMCA case, and keep everything together and in order. Don’t panic (I went into panic mode when someone distributed a copy of a novel I was writing on the net), and just confront them with the legal implications of their actions. They are likely to back off, but if they don’t, climb the ladder very slowly, spooking as many people as you can. (The ones that are involved, not the innocents). Legal implications are a scary thing, as the ‘distributor’ of my novel manuscript found out. Unfortunately, for me it was too late to fix, but if you get in early, damage control is a lot easier.

    People who steal designs and other copyright materials, especially creative ones, are usually either cowards or idiots. Waving a legal banner makes them sweat, impaling them with that banner makes them retreat.

    Hope this small amount of input helps. Remember, you have truth on your side, and most of the time, that can be enough.

  5. For future reference, here’s how you can cloak your CSS files

    David – while I’d recommend a fast and heavy approach, the other person’s online profile (or affiliation with a larger company) can make things difficult.

    If you have a cast-iron case (which I am sure you do), then initiate DMCA proceedings and expose the designer publicly, but DO NOT hit the company. If you get this right, the company may choose to cut its losses and get rid of the person instead of putting up with a losing public fight.

    The lengths we have to go to protect our own interests…

    This is extreme, but be warned that when you are faced with people who refuse to see reason, you can either back off or run them over. Middle ground is for idealists philosophising in the comforts of their make-believe world

  6. I faced this problem recently, but I was so worried for my logo more than design itself. Best way to solve this, is to get in touch with the guy who stole your work and explain him that he did something bad or illegal. But most important of all, that you know about what he did !

    Unfortunately many think this could be done without being noticed by anyone. So in my case I find the phone number and called the guy. The issue is resolved without problem, I blog it here :

  7. David,

    Great advice so far!

    I really can’t believe that this guy is so dense that he thinks it’s alright to steal if he does it in a fit of “admiration”! That’s just silly, but in the interest of getting things resolved with as little blood shed as possible :-), I think you’re taking the right approach by giving him the benefit of the doubt that he really doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong.

    Here’s what you could do:

    1) Send him a short email politely letting him know that you will continue to pursue the issue until he complies with your requests. Let him know exactly what you want him to do and how long he has to do it. Also, give him a link to this post so he can see all the advice you’re getting and how other bloggers regard someone who rips off a design.

    2) You’ve already tried communicating with him via email, maybe it’s time to have a phone conversation with him. You’re a very persuasive guy and a skilled negotiator–try to use those skills to bring about a resolution.

    3) Maybe it would help to have a mediator contact him on your behalf. You know, sometimes it’s hard to keep a cool head when you’re so closely involved.

    If he doesn’t agree to a resolution that’s acceptable to you, then let him know that you’ll be doing that DMCA thing and making the dispute public. I know that some folks think that he might regard a public dispute with you as a good PR move that will bring traffic to his site, but with this particular guy, I really don’t think he wants any negative attention within the blogging community.

    To tell you the truth, I think this guy is just making light of the issue becuase he thinks that you’re not going to bother pursuing this. Once he sees that you’re serious, that he’s going to experience public exposure and humiliation ;-), then I think he’ll comply with your requests.

    In the meantime, take a deep breath and don’t let it eat you up too much. You *can* get this resolved without investing a whole bunch of negative energy into it.

  8. To the tune of the Village People’s YMCA.

    Everybody sing D..MCA….Everybody body sing D…MCAa)

    If you need a DMCA template let me know via email. Send the DMCA notice to the hosting company of the site having filled in the various bits as needed. The hosting company will be compelled to take the site down under the DMC Act itself. The offending party can counter claim, but having said that if they have copied your template they can only do so under risk of perjury on a legal document, so they’d have rocks in their heads if they did.

  9. 2 or 3 emails and set a deadline to take the design down. Mention that you’ll get in toch with the hoster for DMCA, but don’t call them out.
    Not everyone cares that much, some think that public shame good traffic is. And good for PR too.

    Be merciless. They stole, why should you bother? Especially since you give them the chance to take it down.
    I couldn’t be bothered, you take my design, I take your site [down].

  10. considering that conversations and emails haven’t helped, here’s what you really should be doing:

    1) Mention it publicly that your design is being ripped off (remember chris pearson doing it when this person copied and modified Cutline, and then called it his own?). Usually that solves issues.

    2) Simultaneously, initiate DMCA proceedings. No time to waste, chop chop…

    The thing is, your time’s valuable and so is your investment. You want to protect your investment, but not so much that the time spent on it becomes a liability.

    Public shaming and a lawsuit usually takes care of everything but the worst kind of offender.

    In the off chance that you HAVE to do the whole legal dance and that this person becomes your sworn enemy..

    drop by the spy novel thread, I think they’re discussing problogging underwear now but those people should definitely give you some tips on how to ‘deal’ with such people

    The last line above (and only the last line) is said jokingly – before you attempt to take it seriously, please get yourself checked in a mental hospital

  11. Some people say… “big deal” it’s just a layout … but it IS a big deal. The bigger deal is that so many idiots don’t recognize the design work as valuable. Only when faced with the need to design something under deadline and economic pressures do they realize how hard the work is. So here’s a little list I thought up.

    1. Remain calm. No seriously – this messes things up for lots of folks when they steam over it and fire off a flame. Nobody wins. Start gathering evidence on a regular basis in a folder on your desk.

    2. Email 1: Kid gloves. Give them a little time to respond and fix it. Mention that you’re capturing copies of these pages on a regular basis to record the activity. Include a casual reference to the DMCA page.

    3. Email 2: Tell them you’re serious, and that you’re going to get legal. Talk about the DMCA specifics and how copyright applies to the creator as soon as a work is created. Refer to your work as original work. Tell them you’re capturing documents, perhaps attaching a PDF file showing their pages with dates on them. This spooks the dickens out of people knowing that you’re watching.

    4. Contact the hosting provider.. You can use DNS tools to figure this out, sometimes it takes a couple of tries. Create an email and request receipt. By informing the host, you’ve legally involved them, and they are now liable for lack of action. This can be harder if the host is halfway around the world as laws are different. But safe harbor laws apply only if the provider is NOT AWARE of the infraction. You take them out of safe harbor by making them aware.

    5. Time to call in the big guns. Letter/Fax/Email (yep, all) to the hosting provider with tracking (registered mail.)

    “Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the [web host] will be held liable for damages by allowing this activity to continue by your hosting client.”

    If this doesn’t do the trick, you have yourself a wierd one. In the tiny chance you still have stuff being used, time to file a suit. Gather up your evidence and get ready to rumble.

    I wish you luck.

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