Internet Plagiarism
May 31, 2005 10:12 PM   Subscribe

Web design plagiarism - How do you deal with someone who has taken original content from a commercial web site you designed and built from scratch, and then put that material on their commercial web site and used it as their own? What if this person is in the same business as you and works in the same market and location as you?

Without self-linking to the actual pages, I'll just say that there is an individual in my town who works in the same market I do. (We're both entertainers.) This person clearly liked my web site and took several ideas from my site and inserted them directly into his site, making our sites look very similar. And I'm not talking about just the layouts... he took actual copy from my pages and is using it to represent him on HIS site. After I found out about this, I emailed him with a detailed list of all the plagiarized points that bothered me (about a dozen) and asked him to change them. He wrote back and denied everything, but after continued pressure from me, he admitted he stole my work and agreed to change 3 of the 12 things I asked him to. I just let the rest go and went on with my life until tonight, when I noticed he had added another page to his site which was basically cut and pasted from my site. It is a customized client inquiry form designed specifically for the type of client we both work for. He just stole it from me quite blantantly. I have written to him again and I am awating his response.

The other thing is, he designs web sites for other people (also in our market) and he has even plagiarized my work on the OTHER sites he's built.

I know this sort of thing is rampant on the web. It's just so infuriating. What have you done when this has happend to you?
posted by evoo to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It hasn't happened to me, but here are a couple of examples of how to handle it. You've already tried to be nice and work with him directly, so you should consider getting a lawyer. You could also post something at Pirated Sites.

Also, do you have a copyright notice or Creative Commons license on your site? Your work should be covered by copyright even if you don't, but having an explicit notice would help your case.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:35 PM on May 31, 2005

Well, if you want to play hardball, the cost to have a lawyer draft a letter shouldn't be very high. Most people, when getting a legal letter by certified mail will suddenly realize the error of their ways. If not, prepare to sue him. Depending on your state, you could do it in small claims court since it's a local thing.

Ask the lawyer who drafts the letter about filing criminal charges for theft of services and other various forms of theft that flutter around the digital domains. Your time and your creativity are your bread and butter...he *is* stealing from you and you should be able to press charges. (Make sure you have backed up copies of all the sites. I'd use something like WinHTtrack that just spiders the site off complete.)

Also, is there a required license for the work you do? If so, bring it to the attention of the licensing board. Generally blatant criminal activities are against the charters of those types of organizations.

Sic em! Grrr!
posted by dejah420 at 11:35 PM on May 31, 2005

Call a lawyer. Also, I would grab snapshots of both his current site, in its infringing state, and of your site.

You should also look in the Wayback machine and see if you can get snapshots of both sites at various points in time.
posted by bshort at 11:46 PM on May 31, 2005

Yes, grab snapshots.Call a lawyer.
posted by dobbs at 11:56 PM on May 31, 2005

You've tried to be nice. It hasn't worked. Provide links here and let people know. I'd be happy to drop him a polite email myself letting him know how he is very much in the wrong. This approach has done the trick before. Put him under pressure.
posted by nthdegx at 3:55 AM on June 1, 2005

kirkaracha's first link has some good thoughts; public shaming seems to work in the vast majority of cases. Start by taking snapshots, posting the URLs here and at Pirated Sites, and drafting a letter. Using a lawyer for the letter may not even be necessary; you can simply say you've talked to a lawyer who said it's an open-and-shut case and suggested that any number of lawyers would be happy to take the case on for a portion of the award. That might work without you actually incurring legal fees. If it doesn't, dejah420's suggestion of a formal letter via certified mail from a law office should work.

First, though, you have to decide if you care enough to pursue it. I sure would.
posted by mediareport at 5:39 AM on June 1, 2005

If you care about things like search engine rankings, you might find Google's DMCA page and/or their spam report useful.

Also search through this section of the forums for more ideas and advice (registration neccessary, I'm afraid, but it's free.)
posted by romakimmy at 5:49 AM on June 1, 2005

You could try reporting his theft to his supervisors (if he has any), notifying his clients that have his plagerized designs, and notifying his ISP. All are tactics I've seen other people take in the past. If none of those work, I would hire a lawyer.

I'm pretty sure all that pitting the entire Internet against him would do would be to drive him underground where he will continue to rip you or other people off. He's clearly aware of the wrong he is doing, so I doubt public shame would accomplish anything.
posted by geeky at 6:46 AM on June 1, 2005

You could always post the links here, and unleash the angry mob!
posted by spilon at 7:54 AM on June 1, 2005

I'm pretty sure all that pitting the entire Internet against him would do would be to drive him underground...

It's the internet, not Chicago.
posted by nthdegx at 8:22 AM on June 1, 2005

Yeah, the Internet makes Chicago look like a church brunch social.

If you're planning on suing him and/or using lawyers, avoid unleashing the angry internet hordes on him, as that can be harrassment and intimidation and provide material for a countersuit.

Get lots of screen caps - and sourcecode snippets. Mine the Wayback Machine. Mine Google Cache. Then sue him for all it's worth.

Or unleash the intermob on him. He'll realize his grevious error when his inbox starts filling up and his Google results start getting trashed.

I really wonder what the hell people are thinking when they steal code/design from other people on the net. "Gee, I have no skills, so I'll just steal this nice looking stuff from this guy who has skills. He'll never notice, right? Oh, crap! WTF? This guy with skills, uh, actually has skills and knows teh intarweb better than I do?! And now he's using it against me?! WAAAAH!"

Despite all of the passionate arguments otherwise, the internet is often still much like a good, rowdy frontier.
posted by loquacious at 9:00 AM on June 1, 2005

Thanks everyone for your input. I have been taking screen caps of everything since this all started 5 months ago.

I did think about internet shaming, but decided against it (for now.) It would actually be really easy to do because the other entertainers in our community are very close knit and word of this type of stuff spreads very fast. The thing is, I don't think it would do much good because this guy is so defensive. He actually claims he came up with the designs, layouts and copy himself; even though it so obvious where it actually came from. It's pathological.

I will try writing to him one more time and mention that I'm contacting a lawyer. I have an attorney friend who could probably draft a C&D letter pretty easily. If he refuses to remove my content from his site, I'll have the letter sent.

This is just so frustrating. It seems so petty making a big deal over some content on a web site, but the thing that gets under my skin is the fact that something was stolen from me. It really comes down to the principle of it all. He's wrong and he knows it. And he knows it's a huge pain in the ass for me to do something about it. Arrrggghhh.

Venting here is helping. Thanks agian for all your helpful tips. That site is great.
posted by evoo at 9:49 AM on June 1, 2005

You need a lawyer, but you have to do your part:

1. Download the entire offending site and print it out. Be sure to have print settings that show the date and time.

2. Print out your entire site, again with date and time. Display the file directory with dates and times and print that out, too.

3. Set up tabs and numbers matching your material with copied material.

4. Provide the best proof you can that your site pre-exists the other one. If possible, show your draft builds so that a fact-finder can see how you developed your work, and that it had been around for a while. Similarly, try to find when the other guy's site came on-line. Did it get mentioned in the press? Can the Wayback Machine find yours or it?

5. An essential element of a lawsuit is ACCESS. Show that the copier could get to your site and in fact accessed it. Print out your access log as proof. Hope that the other guy didn't erase his surfing log, so you can show from his own files that he came to your site. If he's a Windows user, remember that Windows keeps a hidden file of all sites visited.

6. Another essential element is COPYING. Lifting a couple of design elements isn't enough to prove copying. You need to show that the other guy took non-functional parts of your work, or took elements that didn't fit into his site. For some guidelines, read the chapter on the plagiarism of the song Rum and Coca Cola in Louis Nizer's, My Life In Court (out f print but in any library).

7. DAMAGES are part of any case. Even if all you want to do is protect your work, you'll present a more sympathetic case if you can show financial harm.
posted by KRS at 11:47 AM on June 1, 2005

posted by mischief at 11:57 AM on June 1, 2005

It might seem mean, but I still think outing this guy is a better-karma approach than going straight for the lawyers. It works.
posted by nthdegx at 4:08 AM on June 2, 2005

« Older vacuumfilter   |   Another bumber sticker question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.