Design Theft – The Webmaster’s Recourse

Share this article

Every now and then, us Web designers will have to face the fact that our design has been illegally copied. And the typical designer will want to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. This guide explains not only what steps you can take to prevent the theft of your designs, but outlines what actions you should take against anyone who copies your work.

Note that this guide is not intended as legal advice, and you shouldn’t take it as such. The guide includes tips on what actions you should consider if another party illegally copies your design. For legal advice, consult your lawyer.

Preventative Measures

Prevention really is better than cure. The best thing to do is to try to prevent the illegal reproduction of your design before it even happens. Some suggest that you should disable the users’ right click capability, place transparent images over your real images, “scramble” your source code, and more. However, none of these methods truly protect your content from being copied — and all do more to alienate your regular visitors than they do to protect your design (for more information, see SitePoint’s article ‘Don’t Disable Right Click!‘). The absolute bottom line with copyright is: if you don’t work to be stolen, don’t put it on the Web. For some, it’s not even worth the risk. But for others, this approach is a bit radical, and the majority will try to think of some better ways to protect what’s theirs.

The most important thing you should always do is to label your work with the appropriate copyright disclaimers, trademarks, etc. It’s a great idea to have a “legal notices” page on your Website, to inform everyone in complete detail that copying someone’s work is a violation of international copyright laws, and that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law if they use your work without your express consent. Publishing this warning helps deter would-be design thieves, and helps reinforce to all users that you know your rights.

You’ve Been Ripped!

There are several ways to ascertain whether your site has been “ripped”, or copied illegally. Plenty of Websites exist solely to list sites that have been recently ripped — one of the most popular is Pirated-Sites. It’s not a bad idea to bookmark these “watchdog” sites and visit them every now and then to ensure that your work isn’t being illegally reproduced.

A good user community is not only essential to maintaining a good traffic flow; if your site is copied, and you have a good community of visitors, you can be pretty sure that someone will notice it and let you know. If you have a message board, create a thread in your forums to let your users know that any information they can provide about illegal rips will be greatly appreciated (or even consider providing some rewards for good leads) as an additional measure.

Doing a little work like this in advance won’t eliminate every threat of illegal copying, but will cut down on the number of cases you have to chase.

Seeking Retribution… and Justice

After you’ve found the site of someone who’s copied your design, you’re likely to be quite angry. A great piece of advice that works in any situation is this: don’t make any decisions due to anger. Your design may be great, and you certainly do have every right to use it exclusively on your site, but feeling anger when dealing with the culprits won’t make your job any easier. Difficult as it may be, try to stay calm during the process.

The first step that you should take is to get some basic information about the Website that’s illegally reproduced your work. Mentioning the Webmaster or site owner’s name and/or address will add a lot of impact to your emails. Drop by your preferred domain name registration service and search for the domain name the ripper is using. If you receive a message that the information is unavailable, access the “whois” entry for the domain name. The name and address of the domain’s owners will be there — note this, along with their namerver. You’ll need these details to contact their Web host, if the need arises.

In many cases, the owner of the offending site may not even know they’re using an illegally copied design (for instance, they may have received it from someone else who ripped it). This is the best time for the owner to act on the matter if they want a resolution that benefits both themselves and the owner of the copyright. Finding the Webmaster’s email shouldn’t be hard — just look for the site’s “Contact Us” page, or something similar.

Your first email shouldn’t be too legally-oriented — try more of a civil approach, and make it as straight forward as possible. In as friendly a manner as you can muster, explain to the Webmaster why it would benefit them to take the design down. And if you need help composing your email, I’ve included a few sample messages at the end of this article for your reference.

In most cases, this initial email will see most copyright issues resolved. However, there are situations when the Webmaster won’t cooperate right away. In that case you should send a stricter and more legally-toned email to explain that you will press charges to the fullest extent of the law if they don’t remove the site. Also mention that if no prompt action is taken (give them 24 hours or so), you will contact their hosting provider about the issue.

Involving the Web Host

If two emails to the ripper don’t fix the situation, contact their hosting provider. If they’re located in United States or Canada you’re especially in luck, as the laws here state that if the host has been informed about the infringement, but fails to take any action, they’re liable as well. Remember when we got the details of the site’s name server? Go there now: if your search returns a page that doesn’t look like the page of a hosting provider, try the domain name only (no sub-domains). After you find out who hosts the site, look for their abuse email (which is typically on the contact or support pages). Drop them an email informing them about the abuse of your site design and copyrights. Again, try to keep a perspective and highlight why it’s best for them to remove the offending site from their servers.

Note that if the hosting company is based in another country, you may be limited in your options. If this is the case, try to persuade the host to remove the site — by all means — but keep in mind that you might not be able to taken any serious legal action against them. Send as many emails as you feel are necessary. Larger corporations tend to respond quickly, while smaller reselling businesses might not be so quick about throwing their clients out the door. If a hosting provider has an abuse phone number, feel free to give them a call. The more you annoy the provider, the more likely will they be to work with you.

Conclusion

Taking these steps will work to ensure the correct use of your design 99% of the time. But if it doesn’t, you aren’t out of options. If the hosting company is in the US, Canada, UK, or other countries with reasonable laws covering cyber crimes, you should seek advice from your lawyer.

I hope this short guide helped you, but if you need any additional assistance you should stop by SitePoint Forums. Good luck!

Sample eMails

Stuck for words? Here are some sample email templates you can customize and send to sites that have infringed your copyright.

1st eMail — to the Site Owner

Dear [insert site owner’s name from whois]:

I’m writing to you to express my concerns about your Website’s design, which is located at [insert ripper’s URL]. That design has been copied from my Website, [insert your URL], without my permission.

The design is a copyrighted work, which is protected under United States and International copyright laws. I request that you remove the site as soon as possible. If you do not stop using the design immediately, I’ll be forced to press charges for copyright violation (and give you plenty of bad publicity about it).

Thank you for your time and cooperation. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

[your name]
[your Website name]

2nd eMail — to the Site Owner

[your name]
[your title if any]
[your Website name]
[your contact details]

[person who is using your work]
[their Website name]
[their address]

[date]

[insert site owner’s name from whois]:

I recently contacted you about your Website, [URL], which violates federal copyright laws. You did not stop utilizing the illegally copied design as requested in my email.

Violating copyright laws is a serious offence and is classified as a felony in some cases by United States federal courts.

If you stop using my copyright design within the next 24 (twenty four) hours I will not take any further action against you. However, if you fail to cease your illegal activities I will contact your hosting provider, [insert host name if you know it], to get your Website shut down, and/or press charges to the fullest extent of the law.

It is within your best interests to take appropriate action and cease using my design as soon as possible.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

[your name]
[your Website name]

3rd eMail — to the Host

Dear Sir or Madam:

I’m writing to inform you and express my concerns about one of your hosting clients ([insert site name]). This Website has been illegally using my copyrighted works without any prior consent from me. Copyright violations are a serious crime and I’m hoping you will provide assistance regarding this issue.

{if the host is in United States use the following paragraph, otherwise skip it}

As a hosting provider in United States of America, you will be liable for copyright law violations according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if you allow this activity to continue after you become aware of the infringement.

Quick action to eliminate this lawbreaker would be beneficial for everyone, including you. As a hosting provider who eliminates untrustworthy clients from your database, you’ll enjoy good publicity, gain a reputation as a provider who cares about copyright laws, and save yourself from dealing with any lawyers.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation. I look forward to hearing from you about this serious issue.

Sincerely,

[your name]
[your Website name]

Oleg KrogiusOleg Krogius
View Author

Oleg is an avid Webmaster, and a highly motivated PHP and MySQL programmer. He is also the founder of CGShock, an upcoming gaming and Webmaster-related site.

Share this article
Read Next
How Top HR Agencies Build Trust Through Logo Designs
How Top HR Agencies Build Trust Through Logo Designs
Evan Brown
Leveraging Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) for Enhanced Mobile User Engagement
Leveraging Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) for Enhanced Mobile User Engagement
SitePoint Sponsors
10 Artificial Intelligence APIs for Developers
10 Artificial Intelligence APIs for Developers
SitePoint Sponsors
The Ultimate Guide to Navigating SQL Server With SQLCMD
The Ultimate Guide to Navigating SQL Server With SQLCMD
Nisarg Upadhyay
Retrieval-augmented Generation: Revolution or Overpromise?
Retrieval-augmented Generation: Revolution or Overpromise?
Kateryna ReshetiloOlexandr Moklyak
How to Deploy Apache Airflow on Vultr Using Anaconda
How to Deploy Apache Airflow on Vultr Using Anaconda
Vultr
Cloud Native: How Ampere Is Improving Nightly Arm64 Builds
Cloud Native: How Ampere Is Improving Nightly Arm64 Builds
Dave NearyAaron Williams
How to Create Content in WordPress with AI
How to Create Content in WordPress with AI
Çağdaş Dağ
A Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up a Project in Laravel
A Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up a Project in Laravel
Claudio Ribeiro
Enhancing DevSecOps Workflows with Generative AI: A Comprehensive Guide
Enhancing DevSecOps Workflows with Generative AI: A Comprehensive Guide
Gitlab
Creating Fluid Typography with the CSS clamp() Function
Creating Fluid Typography with the CSS clamp() Function
Daine Mawer
Comparing Full Stack and Headless CMS Platforms
Comparing Full Stack and Headless CMS Platforms
Vultr
7 Easy Ways to Make a Magento 2 Website Faster
7 Easy Ways to Make a Magento 2 Website Faster
Konstantin Gerasimov
Powerful React Form Builders to Consider in 2024
Powerful React Form Builders to Consider in 2024
Femi Akinyemi
Quick Tip: How to Animate Text Gradients and Patterns in CSS
Quick Tip: How to Animate Text Gradients and Patterns in CSS
Ralph Mason
Sending Email Using Node.js
Sending Email Using Node.js
Craig Buckler
Creating a Navbar in React
Creating a Navbar in React
Vidura Senevirathne
A Complete Guide to CSS Logical Properties, with Cheat Sheet
A Complete Guide to CSS Logical Properties, with Cheat Sheet
Ralph Mason
Using JSON Web Tokens with Node.js
Using JSON Web Tokens with Node.js
Lakindu Hewawasam
How to Build a Simple Web Server with Node.js
How to Build a Simple Web Server with Node.js
Chameera Dulanga
Building a Digital Fortress: How to Strengthen DNS Against DDoS Attacks?
Building a Digital Fortress: How to Strengthen DNS Against DDoS Attacks?
Beloslava Petrova
Crafting Interactive Scatter Plots with Plotly
Crafting Interactive Scatter Plots with Plotly
Binara Prabhanga
GenAI: How to Reduce Cost with Prompt Compression Techniques
GenAI: How to Reduce Cost with Prompt Compression Techniques
Suvoraj Biswas
How to Use jQuery’s ajax() Function for Asynchronous HTTP Requests
How to Use jQuery’s ajax() Function for Asynchronous HTTP Requests
Aurelio De RosaMaria Antonietta Perna
Quick Tip: How to Align Column Rows with CSS Subgrid
Quick Tip: How to Align Column Rows with CSS Subgrid
Ralph Mason
15 Top Web Design Tools & Resources To Try in 2024
15 Top Web Design Tools & Resources To Try in 2024
SitePoint Sponsors
7 Simple Rules for Better Data Visualization
7 Simple Rules for Better Data Visualization
Mariia Merkulova
Cloudways Autonomous: Fully-Managed Scalable WordPress Hosting
Cloudways Autonomous: Fully-Managed Scalable WordPress Hosting
SitePoint Team
Best Programming Language for AI
Best Programming Language for AI
Lucero del Alba
Quick Tip: How to Add Gradient Effects and Patterns to Text
Quick Tip: How to Add Gradient Effects and Patterns to Text
Ralph Mason
Logging Made Easy: A Beginner’s Guide to Winston in Node.js
Logging Made Easy: A Beginner’s Guide to Winston in Node.js
Vultr
How to Optimize Website Content for Featured Snippets
How to Optimize Website Content for Featured Snippets
Dipen Visavadiya
Psychology and UX: Decoding the Science Behind User Clicks
Psychology and UX: Decoding the Science Behind User Clicks
Tanya Kumari
Build a Full-stack App with Node.js and htmx
Build a Full-stack App with Node.js and htmx
James Hibbard
Digital Transformation with AI: The Benefits and Challenges
Digital Transformation with AI: The Benefits and Challenges
Priyanka Prajapat
Quick Tip: Creating a Date Picker in React
Quick Tip: Creating a Date Picker in React
Dianne Pena
How to Create Interactive Animations Using React Spring
How to Create Interactive Animations Using React Spring
Yemi Ojedapo
10 Reasons to Love Google Docs
10 Reasons to Love Google Docs
Joshua KrausZain Zaidi
How to Use Magento 2 for International Ecommerce Success
How to Use Magento 2 for International Ecommerce Success
Mitul Patel
5 Exciting New JavaScript Features in 2024
5 Exciting New JavaScript Features in 2024
Olivia GibsonDarren Jones
Tools and Strategies for Efficient Web Project Management
Tools and Strategies for Efficient Web Project Management
Juliet Ofoegbu
Choosing the Best WordPress CRM Plugin for Your Business
Choosing the Best WordPress CRM Plugin for Your Business
Neve Wilkinson
ChatGPT Plugins for Marketing Success
ChatGPT Plugins for Marketing Success
Neil Jordan
Managing Static Files in Django: A Comprehensive Guide
Managing Static Files in Django: A Comprehensive Guide
Kabaki Antony
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best React Website Builder
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best React Website Builder
Dianne Pena
Exploring the Creative Power of CSS Filters and Blending
Exploring the Creative Power of CSS Filters and Blending
Joan Ayebola
How to Use WebSockets in Node.js to Create Real-time Apps
How to Use WebSockets in Node.js to Create Real-time Apps
Craig Buckler
Best Node.js Framework Choices for Modern App Development
Best Node.js Framework Choices for Modern App Development
Dianne Pena
SaaS Boilerplates: What They Are, And 10 of the Best
SaaS Boilerplates: What They Are, And 10 of the Best
Zain Zaidi
Understanding Cookies and Sessions in React
Understanding Cookies and Sessions in React
Blessing Ene Anyebe
Enhanced Internationalization (i18n) in Next.js 14
Enhanced Internationalization (i18n) in Next.js 14
Emmanuel Onyeyaforo
Essential React Native Performance Tips and Tricks
Essential React Native Performance Tips and Tricks
Shaik Mukthahar
How to Use Server-sent Events in Node.js
How to Use Server-sent Events in Node.js
Craig Buckler
Five Simple Ways to Boost a WooCommerce Site’s Performance
Five Simple Ways to Boost a WooCommerce Site’s Performance
Palash Ghosh
Elevate Your Online Store with Top WooCommerce Plugins
Elevate Your Online Store with Top WooCommerce Plugins
Dianne Pena
Unleash Your Website’s Potential: Top 5 SEO Tools of 2024
Unleash Your Website’s Potential: Top 5 SEO Tools of 2024
Dianne Pena
How to Build a Chat Interface using Gradio & Vultr Cloud GPU
How to Build a Chat Interface using Gradio & Vultr Cloud GPU
Vultr
Enhance Your React Apps with ShadCn Utilities and Components
Enhance Your React Apps with ShadCn Utilities and Components
David Jaja
10 Best Create React App Alternatives for Different Use Cases
10 Best Create React App Alternatives for Different Use Cases
Zain Zaidi
Control Lazy Load, Infinite Scroll and Animations in React
Control Lazy Load, Infinite Scroll and Animations in React
Blessing Ene Anyebe
Building a Research Assistant Tool with AI and JavaScript
Building a Research Assistant Tool with AI and JavaScript
Mahmud Adeleye
Understanding React useEffect
Understanding React useEffect
Dianne Pena
Web Design Trends to Watch in 2024
Web Design Trends to Watch in 2024
Juliet Ofoegbu
Building a 3D Card Flip Animation with CSS Houdini
Building a 3D Card Flip Animation with CSS Houdini
Fred Zugs
How to Use ChatGPT in an Unavailable Country
How to Use ChatGPT in an Unavailable Country
Dianne Pena
An Introduction to Node.js Multithreading
An Introduction to Node.js Multithreading
Craig Buckler
How to Boost WordPress Security and Protect Your SEO Ranking
How to Boost WordPress Security and Protect Your SEO Ranking
Jaya Iyer
Understanding How ChatGPT Maintains Context
Understanding How ChatGPT Maintains Context
Dianne Pena
Building Interactive Data Visualizations with D3.js and React
Building Interactive Data Visualizations with D3.js and React
Oluwabusayo Jacobs
JavaScript vs Python: Which One Should You Learn First?
JavaScript vs Python: Which One Should You Learn First?
Olivia GibsonDarren Jones
13 Best Books, Courses and Communities for Learning React
13 Best Books, Courses and Communities for Learning React
Zain Zaidi
5 jQuery.each() Function Examples
5 jQuery.each() Function Examples
Florian RapplJames Hibbard
Implementing User Authentication in React Apps with Appwrite
Implementing User Authentication in React Apps with Appwrite
Yemi Ojedapo
AI-Powered Search Engine With Milvus Vector Database on Vultr
AI-Powered Search Engine With Milvus Vector Database on Vultr
Vultr
Understanding Signals in Django
Understanding Signals in Django
Kabaki Antony
Why React Icons May Be the Only Icon Library You Need
Why React Icons May Be the Only Icon Library You Need
Zain Zaidi
View Transitions in Astro
View Transitions in Astro
Tamas Piros
Getting Started with Content Collections in Astro
Getting Started with Content Collections in Astro
Tamas Piros
What Does the Java Virtual Machine Do All Day?
What Does the Java Virtual Machine Do All Day?
Peter Kessler
Become a Freelance Web Developer on Fiverr: Ultimate Guide
Become a Freelance Web Developer on Fiverr: Ultimate Guide
Mayank Singh
Layouts in Astro
Layouts in Astro
Tamas Piros
.NET 8: Blazor Render Modes Explained
.NET 8: Blazor Render Modes Explained
Peter De Tender
Mastering Node CSV
Mastering Node CSV
Dianne Pena
A Beginner’s Guide to SvelteKit
A Beginner’s Guide to SvelteKit
Erik KückelheimSimon Holthausen
Brighten Up Your Astro Site with KwesForms and Rive
Brighten Up Your Astro Site with KwesForms and Rive
Paul Scanlon
Which Programming Language Should I Learn First in 2024?
Which Programming Language Should I Learn First in 2024?
Joel Falconer
Managing PHP Versions with Laravel Herd
Managing PHP Versions with Laravel Herd
Dianne Pena
Accelerating the Cloud: The Final Steps
Accelerating the Cloud: The Final Steps
Dave Neary
An Alphebetized List of MIME Types
An Alphebetized List of MIME Types
Dianne Pena
The Best PHP Frameworks for 2024
The Best PHP Frameworks for 2024
Claudio Ribeiro
11 Best WordPress Themes for Developers & Designers in 2024
11 Best WordPress Themes for Developers & Designers in 2024
SitePoint Sponsors
Top 10 Best WordPress AI Plugins of 2024
Top 10 Best WordPress AI Plugins of 2024
Dianne Pena
20+ Tools for Node.js Development in 2024
20+ Tools for Node.js Development in 2024
Dianne Pena
The Best Figma Plugins to Enhance Your Design Workflow in 2024
The Best Figma Plugins to Enhance Your Design Workflow in 2024
Dianne Pena
Harnessing the Power of Zenserp for Advanced Search Engine Parsing
Harnessing the Power of Zenserp for Advanced Search Engine Parsing
Christopher Collins
Build Your Own AI Tools in Python Using the OpenAI API
Build Your Own AI Tools in Python Using the OpenAI API
Zain Zaidi
The Best React Chart Libraries for Data Visualization in 2024
The Best React Chart Libraries for Data Visualization in 2024
Dianne Pena
7 Free AI Logo Generators to Get Started
7 Free AI Logo Generators to Get Started
Zain Zaidi
Turn Your Vue App into an Offline-ready Progressive Web App
Turn Your Vue App into an Offline-ready Progressive Web App
Imran Alam
Clean Architecture: Theming with Tailwind and CSS Variables
Clean Architecture: Theming with Tailwind and CSS Variables
Emmanuel Onyeyaforo
Get the freshest news and resources for developers, designers and digital creators in your inbox each week
Loading form