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Fighting Design Theft

Joshua Lane / / 7 Comments

Greg Storey recently posted an article about “design theft” that’s getting a good deal of commentary in the biz. As a victim of such theft, I fully support his point of view and definitely understand the outrage associated with it… whether it was his design that was stolen or not. One of the toughest parts about dealing with this sort of thing is HOW to handle it. Usually, there are two courses of action you can take…

  1. Email and/or call the person responsible for ripping off your work and ask them to take it down, or re-do it.
  2. Publicly “out” them by posting on a website (your blog,, etc). This usually leads to a number of other individuals emailing the thief on your behalf.

Personally, I’m a big fan of option #2. I feel that if someone is going to publicly post a rip of your work, then you have every right to publicly post a response. Granted, this can sometimes be a bit hot-headed, but it’s a good exercise/example for younger designers to be privy too. If no one ever talks about it publicily, how would anyone know it’s wrong?

On the other hand, I do see the merit in emailing the person first as it’s the more polite and professional thing to do. Sometimes, the company with the stolen design doesn’t even realize it. So, punishing them for their designer’s error isn’t really fair. In Greg’s case, he went for a combination of both options… calling first to discuss the issue and then posting publicly when the responsible party didn’t really care about it.

What would you (or have you) done if someone ripped your design work?

Comments Abound

Delightful thoughts & feedback about this article

Jason Santa Maria /

I strongly disagree with trying #2 before #1. Many times the offending site is a business who is completely unaware that teh designer they hired ripped off an existing design. They shouldn’t have to suffer because they hired an unscrupulous designer.

I say ALWAYS try to keep it private and low key first. Not only do you protect the innocent, but you also are trying to resolve it professionally.

patricia /

Well, first I’d have to stop giggling over the fact that anyone would be silly enough to rip off any of my oh so very basic design. After that, I’d do #2 and if that didn’t get me anywhere, I’d opt for #1 if I really felt strongly about the problem.

Jared Christensen /

Ditto to what Mr. Santa Maria said, though the last time it happened there was a public flogging (the “borrower” in question was a “designer” so I figured he should know better). Usually the offenders are surprised to learn they are doing something wrong (which is a whole other disturbing tangent), but are willing to take the design down.

I guess the key is to not catch me on a bad day?

Rosemarie /

Depends on how angry I was :P Sometimes I just ignore it (usually this is when the person who ripped off my design is someone who has been kind to me in the past) Sometimes I post it publicly (if it’s a huge horrible ripoff) and sometimes I email them.

It all just depends :D

Page intentionally left blank /

Very little of web design is truly unique anymore. We all want to believe that every effort we make is earth shatteringly unique design (in your case it happens more often than most… but that’s not the norm in our industry) but we’re not all as creative as we’d like to think we are.

In the case of Greg’s post, all three sites were rather simplistic in treatment. It’s no wonder there are similarities between Faulkner Cork’d and Joyent… but I’ll agree with the wine swilling owner that it’s not so similar as to be able to call it a copy.

In print design we’re taught that seven structural changes constitute unique work… and Faulkner certainly has those. And to say that all the designers did was change some colors proves the author didn’t bother to look at the CSS files… because the markup looks more like Glish to me than Tundro (who I’ll bet ripped a lot of influence from Powazek) or whoever did Joyent. Sometimes we need to step back and nod to the fact that there are only so many ways to place information on a page and we don’t all rate to work for Saatchi & Saatchi.

Mark /

I’ve never had any problem with someone who’s taken my design or content that a friendly email hasn’t resolved. Saying I’m flattered they liked my site enough to steal it, but that I’d appreciate if they’d not use my design and call it their own, has always yielded the desired result.

Of course, I’m NO Dan Cederholm or Cameron Moll. They probably have form letters they’re forced to use on a regular basis. I’m sure it’s a real headache for those guys to protect their work and ideas.

I could see having to resort to your second option only if someone was clearly in-the-wrong, and was being completely unreasonable about it.

Candice Harris /

I think I would be very angry if someone ripped your design work, because it’s not polite to use the efforts and ideas of other people for your own profit. I would surely write a great post about this. Honest pepole would agree with me and there are many honest people around the net.:)

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