Design Theft

Design Theft

Nick Finck

September 7, 2004 at 9:53 PM

One would generally think that maybe no one ever read Inspiration vs. Theft or that no one ever cared about where the fine line is drawn or if they crossed it… much less understand simple copyright laws or the words “All Rights Reserved” and what they actually entail. And never mind that there is a whole site dedicated to showcasing design theft. Why do I bring this up? Well, because today marks the 148th attempt at design theft of a Digital Web Magazine design. Here are a few rules of thumb:

  1. Always ask first, never take.
  2. Don’t ever think you will go unnoticed, even on the Web.
  3. Read the site’s copyright statement and/or policy first.
  4. See rule one above.
  5. Re-read rule one above.

If you feel none of these rules apply to you and you are going to take someone’s web design, hire a good lawyer.



September 7, 2004 at /files/includes/10.css:41 PM

One of the links you point to makes a great point: “A more restrictive license won

Ken Westin

September 7, 2004 at 11:48 PM

One thing I have found is that it is usually new designers/developers who do this kind of thing, most of the time they just don’t know any better. I taught a college course on web design and actually had three students who turned in their final projects that were ripped off from other sites (one was MTV of all things). One made the case that what he did wasn’t stealing but “sampling” like a DJ. Learning is one thing, but the folks who make money off of other’s designs…we should do to them what they do to thieves in some countries, only instead of chopping of hands, we chop off their mouse! Ha! Let’s see them steal designs with just a keyboard.


September 8, 2004 at 7:22 AM

I’m all for protecting artists and their work but when I see people adding Creative Commons liscences to some CSS tabs they made it makes me sick. Did you invent CSS or the concept of tabs? No, you just happened to post your way of doing it online before the 8000 other designers who do it the same way. Don’t get me wrong here. I think blatantly ripping someone’s work off is totally sleazy, but some designers (especially web) are a little bit cocky about the originality of their work. I could probably find a book cover or magazine layout that looks like most people’s sites. Any site that’s a large a photo with some tabs with a color/font theme is hardly original. Again, I think people’s work should be protected, but I also think it’s really lame if everyone who makes a CSS design copyrights it and cries ‘mine mine mine’ when another site resembles it. I feel sorry for the kid who independently works hard on his/her site and inevitably it resembles someone else’s (which it will, given the sheer amount of sites/blogs) and has to deal with the nasty emails and posts written about him/her. Let’s not let the GAG become the RIAA. “Sure, slapping 2 racoons together is original, but no one wants to hear it.” – Chris Robinson, The Black Crowes


September 8, 2004 at 8:15 AM

Something to think about. Your new logo was apparently created sometime after Jan 22 2004. / However, Aero Airlines has had thiers since 2002. They look pretty similar to me.

Nick Finck

September 8, 2004 at 8:48 AM

Tom: I am not sure what your point here is. We clearly started from scratch and worked our way to the design you see today. Ken: funny you should mention collage… it just so happens that a well-respected university happened to be the thief this time around. Tom: I totally agree that one can’t copyright tabs (Adobe already has done that), or CSS (Microsoft has already done that). But make no mistake, this wasn’t just someone taking my tabs, this was a full site design theft right down to the CSS and XHTML. As far as I can tell the only thing they did change was the copyright (now with their name as the copyrighter of the design), the content, and the logo. That’s it. They even took the IA concepts you see used here on this site. Indy: I don’t mean to lecture you about law, but basically, if you don’t defend your copyright it is as simple as not having a copyright to begin with. I am not sure what country you are in, so things may be different there, but in the U.S. if you don’t “actively seek out violations” your copyright case may be thrown out… even if they walk in steal everything including content and don’t even try to defend their actions. Though, I must admit, this one came to us from an anonymous user.


September 8, 2004 at /files/includes/10.css:03 AM

As someone who has had their site designs stolen before, I know exactly what you’re talking about here, Nick. I actually did a little investigating on this on my site since GSU’s literally a stone’s throw away from me.


September 8, 2004 at /files/includes/10.css:46 AM

What I think Tom is trying to say about the logo

Nick Finck

September 8, 2004 at 11:02 AM

Robert: I understand what you are talking about in your first point here. It’s all about being original (concept wise), but that’s quite a bit different than blatant design theft. This is what my was all about… the thin gray line. Where is it drawn? How much is too much? It’s not to difficult to define these terms. As for international copyright laws, I fully agree. They are a pain in the butt to enforce. However, you’d be surprised what you can accomplish given a formal and professional legal approach to the problem.

Dave Shea

September 8, 2004 at 11:44 AM

Nick: “in the U.S. if you don’t “actively seek out violations” your copyright case may be thrown out” You’re thinking of trademarks. That’s completely untrue for copyright. Indy: “One of the links you point to makes a great point” Since I wrote that, I feel I can say you’re taking away the wrong conclusion. Why fight this losing battle? Because it’s not a losing battle at all. The same article you referenced goes on to conclude: “Finally, the group of people seeing a design who then decide to steal it are really rather small. Don

Dave Shea

September 8, 2004 at 11:45 AM

(sorry, I forgot to clarify – point 5 in the article linked addresses the ‘copyrights need to be defended’ myth)

Nick Finck

September 8, 2004 at 12:41 PM

Dave: let me rephrase that: In the U.S. if you don’t “actively seek out violations” your copyright case may be thrown out. I never said that if you don’t seek out violations that your work isn’t copyrighted. I am simply stating that you have less legal ground if you don’t actually enforse the copyright. Note: the article you referenced even states this “It is true that a notice strengthens the protection, by warning people, and by allowing one to get more and different damages, but it is not necessary.” (see myth 1 comments) …and by no means do I believe that enforcement ensures that it won’t happen. It’s always going to happen. What is more important is how you handle it and how well you understand the copyright laws (or how well your lawyer does).

Nick Finck

September 8, 2004 at 1:00 PM

Well, I guess the cat is totally out of the bag now. For the record, I never intended to name the offending party, much less have anyone slander them. I believe, at this time, it was the work of a collage student who didn’t want to take the time to design something unique. I don’t believe anyone received compensation for the stolen design.

Ken Westin

September 8, 2004 at 1:25 PM

Heh. We had an instance department at a previous job I worked for paid a design firm to redesign their site (before I started). Well three months into my new job it came to my attention that this design firm ripped off the design from a Christina Aguillera website. Luckily we pulled the plug on the site quickly enough. So here it probably wasn’t the University that was responsible…more like someone outsourced the project, or a student. Since most University websites lack centralization aside from core academic and admissions information it probably wasn’t approved through the same channels and audits as an official (/files/includes/print.css) publication would be. I am sure once they see themselves on they will have learned their lesson.


September 9, 2004 at 4:57 PM

Well I don’t know who runs that site or is responsible for it, however they are taking their own sweet time to remove it. In fact I’m sure they are still publishing new material since being outed. John


September /files/includes/10.css, 2004 at 6:16 AM

I agree, theft is bad.. and that one that copied this site is an obvious case where fonts, colours, and images are near identical. There are some examples on that design theft site that are a bit silly to call theft, perhaps ‘influenced heavily by’ but not actual theft. Anyway, if someone doesn’t have the talent to come up with their own design… they likely will not be able to maintain its consistancy. But getting lawyers after them is just wrong. Only the lawyers win.


September /files/includes/10.css, 2004 at 4:31 PM

Theft: The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious taking and removing of personal property, with an intent to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny. Note: To constitute theft there must be a taking without the owner’s consent, and it must be unlawful or felonious; every part of the property stolen must be removed, however slightly, from its former position; and it must be, at least momentarily, in the complete possession of the thief. This isn’t even close to theft, you have an excellent but very generic design here. I’ve created even more complex, similarly structed sites in a night just to pass the time. Obviously they used your site as inspiration, but it’s also obvious that they wrote all their own (not too shabby) code. I’d wager this would have never been noticed if for the coincidence that their color scheme is the same as this site. This sharing of color scheme was probably what led him to use your site. The whole idea of a web developer whining about this is bothersome to me in the first place, as if their is any html developer alive that never copied design elements from another site.

Nick Finck

September /files/includes/10.css, 2004 at /files/includes/10.css:29 PM

Jon: Web Designers often refer to copying someone’s design and using it on their site as ‘design theft’ …I agree, it’s not ‘theft’ ….but it certainly is violating our clearly posted copyright. Yes, anyone can copyright a design just like they can copyright a photograph, or a piece of art. All Rights Reserved means exactly that. Perhaps a quick refresh of exactly what is copyrightable in terms of web design is called for. I can prove without any doubt or hesitation that this site was copied verbatim from the Digital Web Magazine site. This is all behind us now, however, as the owner of that site has agreed to take down the design that is in violation of our copyright… they may take it down a little slower than I would like, but they are doing it none-the-less. Argue semantics if you like, but I know my rights and I know how to defend them.


May 23, 2005 at 9:58 AM

Argue semantics if you like, but I know my rights and I know how to defend them What is wrong with semantics, per-ce? In this case, you as well as “web designers” apply the term of theft inappropriately, when the law is very clear that the act that happened was a form of copyright infringement. As much as I will side on your isde this time, If the design in question was too generic, I would tell the person complaining to find something better to bitch about.