delete jane fonda

Tom from Delete London recently dropped me a line about their website design being stolen by… Jane Fonda (well… actually by the people who created her website). Although this is not the worst case of design theft, it looks like Jane Fonda’s designers have been more than just “inspired”. Even though imitation can be taken as a form of flattery for a designer, let’s take a look at what you can do to when it happens to you.

Common cases of design theft

  • Stolen webdesigns
    This is the case in the above image, there is countless examples of this, like here or here. Hard to understand why people would steal a website’s design when there is great free open-source templates or free WordPress themes.
  • Copied ideas and designs
    This happens all the time, people will crawl some inspirational websites like LogoPond or Logospire and use it for their client work. Some go as far as reselling it on stock websites. In both cases, the client or buyer has no clue that the logo he got is a rip-off. This type of theft is probably the most common and the hardest to protect yourself from.
  • Stock material freely distributed
    Selling stock can be an interesting source of income for a designer, and if you invested time to create high-quality vectors or Photoshop brushes it can be quite annoying to see it freely distributed on Torrent sites. Go Media had to deal with that issue.
  • Website content theft
    Even though RSS is a great technology that allows people to follow your blog’s update without coming back to your site all the time, it has also made website content theft a easier than ever. It happened recently to Spoonfed design. Some people even create scraped websites with a stolen design and sell it on forums or marketplaces.

Preventive measures

The first action you can take is to protect your designs as much as you can. Even thought most of these techniques are not satisfactory, here is a few steps you can take:

  • Add watermarks to your images
    Although this can be quite effective to discourage people from stealing images on your website, it will add some noise to the image and make your portfolio less attractive. Personally I wouldn’t use it but it had to be mentionned. Learn how to batch watermark adding in Photoshop.
  • Digital watermaks
    A hidden, invisible digital watermark. The thief will not know that it’s there but you can prove the image is yours. Read an introduction to digital watermarks here.
  • Copyscape
    Copyscape is used by many websites to protect their content, it’s quite effective way to be alerted whenever your website’s content is stolen.
  • Put the copyright info on your website
    Sound like dumb advice huh? However many people surfing the web have no clue that content and images can be copyrighted.
  • Use TinyEye image search
    An image recognition search engine, find potential copies of your images.

When your design is stolen

The first question you should really ask yourself in case of design theft: is it worth using my time to react?

  1. Contact the thief
    Unfortunatly many people aren’t aware that they are infringing copyright when taking your design, so no need to be agressive in your first email. Just inform your thief what he did wrong, why it is wrong and politely ask him to change his design or remove the stolen content.
  2. Contact the thief again
    If you didn’t get a reply to your first email, you can contact your thief again and explain him/her what you will do next if there is no reaction from them.
  3. Contact his webhost
    When people really won’t reply, then you can try to take them down from their webhost. Usually hosting providers will cooperate if they see that your design or content has obviously been stolen. Of course if the design is on a stock site, it’s that site that you should contact.
  4. Get community support
    Many websites will collect stolen design and put a little shame on the thief, signal your stolen design there (for example this Flickr group or Joe La Pompe).
  5. Take legal action
    I never did it so I don’t have experience to share on this, but if your case is serious enough and really hurting you, think about getting a lawyer and attacking your thief more seriously.

Have you ever been ripped off?

Did this ever happen to you? What did you do in such a case? Please share any other idea on how to react in the comments.

About the Author

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Mirko Humbert

Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic designer and the founder of WP Expert.