Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, co-founder of lifestyle magazine Lagom, founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, and an electronic musician.

How can we stop the thieves?

Posted on 08 February 2008 Comments

Article illustration for How can we stop the thieves?

UPDATE: Not even an hour after posting this, the design of hollisterbay.com has reverted to the default Wordpress theme and the designer sent me an apologetic email, which I appreciate. However, I’m going to keep this post up as I still think it’s an important question to address.

In the past I’ve been know to have a moan or two about having my designs ripped off, but since venting my frustration on those occasions, I’ve remained relatively quiet about it, even though it’s happened several times since. Well, no more. In light in some of the most audacious rips to far, I want to ask you this: How can we stop the thieves?

Umar Salman

There is a freelance designer who goes by the name of Umar Salman and a quick glance at his site suggests that he’s a fairly competent designer; he certainly has a talent for cutting out photographs and turning them into semi-transparent PNGs. However, to anyone who is aware of my site, you will also know that hollisterbay.com is a complete rip of elliotjaystocks.com. The fact that the background image has been stolen is the most obvious crime, but it’s clear that the majority of the CSS has been ripped as well – just have a look at this side-by-side comparison. But it was really the portfolio page with which I took issue, because it’s just exactly the same. How about another side-by-side comparison to demonstrate?

If you have a look around Umar’s portfolio, you’ll find dormsoflondon.com, a shameless rip of not one but two of my other designs. As far as I can tell, the process went something like this: take carsonified.com and futureofwebapps.com/roadtrip, splice them together, add some semi-naked girls, and… ta-da! It makes you wonder if the models on there ever gave their permission to have their photos used; somehow I doubt it. Furthermore, it makes you wonder just how much of Umar’s portfolio is really his. He’s obviously not a bad designer, so in copying other designers’ work, he’s also doing himself a disservice.

A warning

Anyway, I decided I’d had enough. I’ve learned to live with the fact that this stealing and copying goes on, but when someone else is offering their services as a freelance designer and advertising themselves with my work… that’s crossing the line.

It’s worth noting that I’ve received some slack in the past for publically disgracing the rip-offs without giving them warning, so I decided to email Umar before posting this blog entry and asked him to remove my imagery and styling from the offending websites. In fact, I told him I had this post in my drafts and that I wouldn’t publish it if he agreed to take the sites down within two days. I said that if that didn’t allow him enough time to make the changes, he should take the sites down until he could change them.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he wasn’t too happy with my request.

You’ve got to be kidding

Umar’s reply made me laugh out loud, because – quite unbelievably – he denied copying anything but the elliotjaystocks.com background image! He even claimed he doesn’t code and so couldn’t take responsibility for the CSS, to which I replied:_ “”http://www.hollisterbay.com/wp-content/themes/holliterbay/style.css">this says you do>.“_ Yep, just to make that absolutely clear: he has credited himself in the author of a CSS file he supposedly had no hand in making.

It gets better

In an attempt to defend dormsoflondon.com, he said that he “just needed something up there ASAP.” Well, gee, Umar – you should’ve just said! Hey, you should take up robbing banks too. If you get caught, don’t worry – just tell them that you needed some money quickly! :p It was also in this paragraph that he made the rather laughable claim that “I don’t think it over copies anything of yours.”

Finally, in the poorest attempt of a comeback I’ve witnessed so far, he tried an insult: “I don’t have time to do CSS… coding and numbers bore me.”

sigh

Is there more?

There was a second Carsonified rip this week, but I’m not going to mention the designer, as they were good enough to remove the stolen imagery after I emailed them. That said, they still claimed the imagery had been found on a stock photography site, and when I pointed out that I’d created the imagery from my own photos and asked if they could direct me to this site, they – of course – never got back to me.

Why is lying inherent in these designers? Presumably because the kind of person that steals imagery is the kind of person that lies, and feels it can all be justified by a lie. But it’s not right, is it? Why on earth should we have all of our time, effort, and – potentially – income stolen by these people in a matter of seconds?

So let’s do something about it!

I’m not going to get in a flutter every time someone steals my imagery or code. As I said above, I realise that it happens, and most of those times it’s just by amateurs, where no money or reputation is at stake. But I’m not going to sit down and take it while other designers get clients and money by using my work.

So what can we do? Watermark our images? Make our copyright notices more obvious or threatening? Perhaps we should operate a strict policy of contacting the thieves’ web hosts to report copyright infringement and let them deal with the appropriate action (usually a denial of service)? But maybe that’s too harsh and each situation varies from the next… I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know, which is why I’m asking you.

How do you think we should deal with the situation when this happens? And – more importantly – how do we prevent it? It’s not as much of a worry for a Flash-based designer, or a developer whose code is hidden inside PHP files that are never rendered in the source code, but for us XHTML / CSS types, what kind of protection do we have?

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