Digital Thieves – What to do if they steal your design or content

by on July 11th, 2011 0 comments

Working online carries a great number of advantages, but it has its flaws as well – as a web designer, it is next to impossible to prevent your work from being stolen and once stolen, it is often quite difficult to have it removed from the offending website. At times, the perpetrator might reside and host their websites in countries and jurisdictions, which are not too keen on enforcing copyright protection laws, which further complicates the matter. There is a lot a web designer and web developer can do in order to prevent this from happening, but the most important factor is to find the right approach, which is likely to deliver good results quickly. Filing a legal complaint could make a difference, but is often costly, slow, and ineffective and sending hundreds of angry emails is not the right solution either. What to do if someone steals your design work or content:

It is always good to know your rights – the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is the act, which prevents other people from using your work, but the act is not without its flaws or “loopholes.” It has a fair use clause, which can be exploited by people that have decided to use somebody else’s content or design work, and there have been a number of high profile cases, where the judges have ruled in favor of the person(s) who have used the content since each case is different. However, there is a lot you can do on your own, without having to hire a lawyer, and if another person has decided to “borrow” your design and is reselling it or have used it in their work without your consent, then they are unlikely to argue a fair use clause.

1. Contact the Perpetrator

In many cases, simply sending an email is all that is needed. You should keep calm, avoid using strong words or insults, and provide enough evidence that the work that they are using is yours – keep in mind that the person, who is using the design on his or her website might not be the one that has stolen the content. Send them a polite, but firm email demanding immediate action and ask them to take your work off, and if they have taken only a small design element, then you might actually think of permitting them to use it in exchange for a link back, small compensation, or whatever you deem fair.

2. Write a Copyright Infringement Letter

If sending an email did not get the desired result, you can send a copyright infringement letter. The DMCA act has a few guidelines on how to write such letter, but there are quite a few free templates available online as well. The DMCA letter will put additional pressure on the offender and could force them to stop using your work.

3. Contact the Perpetrator’s Webhost

Almost all webhosts have solid terms of service, which prohibit webmasters from using stolen content and are likely to react to your email. Keep in mind that many repeat offenders use webhosts, which are likely to overlook the webmaster’s actions, especially if the latter are paying high monthly bills. In such case, you could try finding the webhost’s upstream provider and forward your letter to them as well.

4. Contact the Domain Name Registrar

Some domain name registrars take these types of complaints very seriously, while others seem to ignore them completely, yet this is a step, which might help your case.

5. Contact the Content Thief Advertisers

Similar to the web hosts, most advertisers do not tolerate copyright infringement, and contacting them could serve as a strong motivation for the perpetrator to stop using your work.

6. Request a Search Engine Ban

Before contacting the major search engines, make sure that you have collected and attached enough evidence to prove that you are the rightful owner of the disputed content. MSN, Google, and Yahoo have procedures, which you should follow when making claims of copyright infringement.

7. Go Public

If the webmaster or designer, who is using your work is a member of a community, forum, interest groups, then going public might force them to listen to your demands.

8. Hire a Lawyer

This could be time-consuming and costly, so should be your last resort. Hiring a copyright attorney might make sense when “the crime” justifies the time and resources that you are likely to spend on pursuing your case. There are various large and smaller firms, which specialize in Internet law and copyright infringement in particular and seeking their services is likely to deliver faster and better results that contacting a firm, which deals predominantly with family law cases.

9. Register Your Work with the US Copyright Office

Visit their site to read more on how you can register your work and what methods of registrations to use.

10. Prevention

While taking down your work from another person’s website could be quite frustrating and time-consuming, you can take a few preventative steps as well. For starters, displaying a clear message that your work is protected by copyright might deter some potential perpetrators and adding a watermark to your images and files is yet another step in the right direction. When adding images to your portfolio, you could use simple JavaScript on the page, which prevents the users from right clicking on the images and saving them to their hard drives. In addition, editing your site’s .htaccess file will disable hotlinking and could discourage other webmasters from posting your work on their sites and blogs. There are software packs, which allow you to display images using java applets or other technology, which makes it far more difficult to copy an image from a website. However, any person, who is determined enough, will copy your work as long as it is displayed online. If, or rather when, your work is stolen, follow some or all of the above-mentioned steps and you are likely to get results.

Has your work been stolen? Please share your experiences and tips with us in the comments.