Plagiarism and web design: prevention and reaction

It’s a situation that many web designers may  face during their carrier:  finding out that someone, somewhere on the web has shamelessly copied your work, passing it off as their own, is without doubt a really unpleasant experience. And frustrating.

Plagiarism is a phenomenon that has always existed  and it has its roots practically in every artistic field: books, films, songs, paintings get plagiarized. And from the birth of art applied to the web, the tentacles of  plagiarism also reached  the web design, nowadays web sites are copied, the graphics is copied, the programming codes are copied,  texts are stolen without even bothering in modifying or readapting them a bit.

Certainly, plunder on the web is easy: all you have to do is push a  few buttons to take possession of everything that the net has to offer. And the copyright on the web is still an illusion: there’s still a little talking about this issue to really know what all this involves and what is the procedure to protect one’s works.

So then, what should we do when we find a bad copy of the site we hardly worked on? And above all, is there a way to prevent plagiarism?

Step 1: Prevention

A short time ago, I read somewhere a phrase that, in the context, really impressed me: “The Web’s not so big”. On the basis of this statement, it’s easy to assume that there’s only one way to try to protect one’s works: giving it visibility. Only in this way the less daring plagiarists – those scared to be uncovered and exposed to public scorn – will do a  step backward. After all, how many would copy a site that for its originality in aesthetics and texts, has been placed in 20 galleries or topic showcases? And how many instead would feel secure enough to copy the site of the small butcher shop near home, found in an anonymous portfolio of an Italian web designer?

So the advice is not limit yourself in inserting  the works in your personal site, but to show off as much as possible every project: putting the screenshots on Facebook, creating an account on Flickr, on Deviant Art, pointing out the site that you’ve created to the theme galleries. Do everything that you can to make the people of the web understand that that is your project and clearly underline it.

Doing this way you can discourage a large number of people that surf the web far and wide in search of  “clonable”  projects and at the same time it will be easier to know of possible copies from those that in one way or another have seen your works and have stumbled on sites heavily inspired by your style ( you can’t even image how many people like to spy on the web, for some it becomes a real mission of life!).

Step 2: it happened, and now?

The site of Peter Pearson is the portfolio most cloned on the web.

Let’s consider the case that we find during our usual daily stroll on the web, a shameless copy of our project. What should we do? Certainly the instinctive reaction of many people would be to scream vehemently to the scandal, but my advice is to stay calm and rational, as causing yourself a hysteric crash won’t help you at all

The fist thing that a civilized person should do is to contact the owner of the site (or, if there’s an absurd “copyright” somewhere that leads to an hypothetical web designer, go straight to the source) and write in an open and friendly manner, without insulting nobody. According to my experience  I can assure you that there’s nothing that can make someone feel worse that a courteous treatment when courtesy is the last thing that one can expect, especially when he knows to be on the wrong side.

Explain to him your reasons in a clear and cordial manner and firmly ask him to eliminate everything that recalls your project. Finish saying that you would not like to proceed with an unnecessary legal action, as you’re certain that neither of you  have the intentions and the money to invest in a stupid quarrel over the authorship of the site.

Statically 98% of the “cloners” will answer you in a very contrite way, begging your pardon and putting forward to an hypothetical and anonymous “web master” (don’t know why, but it seems that all those who copy use the qualification  of “web master”)  the blame of plagiarism. A good  1,5% will respond angrily and a 0.5% will ignore your e-mail with a shrug. Well, the next step is for this 2% that doesn’t want to cover their heads with ashes and are firmly anchored to their cheating arrogance.

Let’s proceed.

Step 3: legal actions

Personally I would avoid to take legal actions against that 98% that, apologizing, eliminate in a timely manner  everything from the web. I don’t need a personal  revenge, it wouldn’t give me satisfaction and it wouldn’t help. Generally who has been pointed out for plagiarism one time, will think twice before committing the same mistake a second time, and this enough for us.

For all the others, I could say that one can begin with reporting the incriminated site to Google (for more information, read the indications of the  law on digital copyright) and after, if you want to go to the bottom of the issue, you can contact a legal firm.

Moreover, the law is on our side, as you can read in this appendix on the copyright applied to the web (for more information you can contact this legal office).

Computer programs, software, codes, layout – As for all the other copyright materials, also the production of software and computer codes  is protected by copyright .It must be said that often, in these case more than in others, the ownership of the work belongs to a person that is different for the one that has materially created the codes. This is because many programmers are bond by a working relationship with software companies that have all the rights of distribution and of economic use.

The recent l. 248/00 has provided specific hypothesis of offense of counterfeiting and computer piracy  also involving computer programs.

The violation of the norms of copyright  leads to sanctions even penal, particularly serious, especially if the person who unlawfully uses others works does it for profit.

In conclusion, any intellectual work present on Internet belongs to its author and one cannot copy it or benefit of it in any way without the explicit consent of the author himself that permits  – and also regulating – the use.

Personal considerations

A small personal note, that all of you are free to take as one believes. As far as I’m concerned, I always avoid to fuss and fume when I find a copy of my personal site or of my projects around. I don’t talk about it, don’t publicize the fact with a scandalized attitude, don’t contact the “thief”. Not because I don’t think to have the right to do so, simply because I don’t believe that the dispute has all that importance. I would feel uncomfortable if I have to pontificate and create projects like ‘the wall of shame’ where Tim Van Damne  lists all those who were inspired – more or less pales doesn’t care – from his VCard, extolling to the eternal dishonour . I consider it a very excessive reaction, almost theatrical  and certainly unnecessary.

Those who live copying others works certainly aren’t professionals. Probably they’ll become so one day, mostly all the times they’ll will never be. And this is enough for me to make me decide to let it go.

Curiosity

On Flickr I found several groups that collect graphic projects (of web design and not only) with their respective “clones”:

Oh my god, someone stole my website

Web Design rip-offs

Similarities

Suggested readings

Web Design and copyright: when creating a website with our name is an utopia

Be inspired or copy: what is the difference?

My web site design was stolen. And now?

And you?

Now I’m curious to know your opinion. Have you ever tracked down  a “thief” that took indecently advantage of your projects? And what was your reaction? Bloody or impartial?

Master per Web Designer Freelance
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The Author

Web designer, has been working in the field of graphics and web development for six years and at the moment besides collaborating with a web agency successfully manages her freelance activity under the name of mascara design. Like many freelancers she is used to handling more roles, ranging from paper graphics to the development of html and css codes; nonetheless this passion of hers remains, always and however, web graphics.

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