Design and copy pirates: Should you care?

Paul Boag

Websites like Copyscape make it easier than ever to find other sites who have stolen your copy. However, should you care and how can you stop thieves.

Dylon Garton recently contacted me with the following issue:

I have been affected by the issue of plagiarism. I really struggle to write good web copy so when I manage to get some good copy into one of my web pages I am quite pleased. I am less pleased when I discover several other websites have lifted the copy word for word.

I am wondering how you guys deal with content theft. I have discovered a great site called Copyscape and this is how I have managed to find all of the sites that have ripped me off. I will be interested to hear how you guys deal with it.

There is no doubt that plagiarism is widespread within web design and across the web as a whole. Sites like Copyscape make it easy to find copy thieves. However, the problem is just as prevalent in design.


Our work has been ripped off a number of times and I know many other designers have experienced the same thing. Elliot Jay Stocks has been particularly vocal on the subject after suffering himself.

Let me be clear…

Ripping off somebody else’s work is wrong. Its lazy and it’s damaging. Not just damaging to the reputation of the individual who you ripped off, but damaging to the thief too. And I am not just talking about when you get caught. It is damaging because it leads to unimaginative thinking. Your own creative skills atrophy over time to the point where you can no longer create original work.

That is not to say you cannot be inspired by other people’s work. However, there is a line, and although we may pretend otherwise, we all know when we have crossed it.

The unfortunate reality

Although plagiarism in all its forms is wrong, it is not going to go away. It has existed before the web and will exist after it. The only difference is that because the web is such an open platform it is incredibly easy to copy work. However, in my opinion that is a price worth paying for an open web.

Once you accept that plagiarism cannot be defeated, it fundamentally changes you attitude towards it. There is little point in getting indignant or angry. You learn not to waste too much time or energy on people who are essentially just rude.

Does that mean that I ignore plagiarism? Not at all.

How I deal with it

99% of the plagiarism I have been confronted with has been resolved with a simple email. I write to the individual involved drawing attention to the problem and asking them to rectify the situation. I don’t make any legal threats and keep things as civil as possible. I make the presumption that the person I am writing to is unaware of the problem.

The reason I take this approach is because it doesn’t put people on the defence. They can easily write back blaming somebody else, apologise profusely and remove the offending content. However, if you start making legal threats they are forced to defend their position.

On the rare occasion when people do dig their heels in I shrug my shoulders and move on. If they want to continually follow in my wake that is fine. I will just move on to the next thing and produce something new. I am not going to waste my time on them.