Simple Tips To Prevent And Deal With Content And Design Theft

When I started playing music about 15 years ago, I had a band with some friends and we recorded some of our songs (demos) and I remember someone told me to put everything we had on a tape or CD and mail it to ourselves. This way we’d have the date stamp on the package and should anyone rip one of our songs we’d have the proof that we came up with the ideas first.

It sounded like a simple and easy way to protect our material. Of course this was never meant to replace copyrights, but we were 13-14 and that seemed like a good enough solution, especially since we had absolutely no budget :)

Needless to say that something like this would not work today, and would certainly never work for web designs and online content! Especially because of the amount of content available online, the tons of different ways you can license your work, the fact that your rights will vary from country to country, and other issues like bandwidth theft, splogs and scrappers.

Trust Me. It Will Happen!

I’m no stranger to content and even bandwidth theft and many of my designs and content have been ripped, stolen and copied countless times. That’s not because I have the best ideas around or because I produce content like crazy. It’s simply because I’m an active internet user, I run blogs and I produce designs for both myself and for my clients. Probably similar to what you do.

If you think no one ever stole any of your work it is only because you haven’t found out about it yet! Trust me, it will happen. It sucks, but there are ways to deal with this.

If you follow me on Twitter you probably already know that I have no respect for thieves. I’m kind enough to give a chance or two, but I hate sitting there and do nothing when I know someone is stealing my work.

I know some people just figure there’s no use fighting against thieves but if everybody were to think like that we might as well all put our work available in the public domain right away. Not for me.

Most plagiarists don’t expect to get caught and, when they do, they generally go along with the demands to avoid escalation. Many will do so silently, never writing back and others will write back to apologize or make excuses… Plagiarism Today

Tools To Find Out If Someone Is Stealing From You

Of course the first step is to actually find out if someone is stealing from you. You should also get yourself familiar with terms like ‘fair use‘ and ‘public domain‘. Being educated about copyright will definitely go a long way.

If you write a blog I suggest setting Google Alerts for key phrases and words and also try out Copyscape. Also, if you find out that someone is stealing designs or content from someone you know, why not let your friends know about it so they can do something?

Here are some tools and things you can do to find out if someone is stealing from you:

Google Alerts: Setup some alerts for keywords related to your website. For example, I have alerts setup for ‘Spyre‘, ‘SpyreStudios‘, ‘Jon Phillips‘, and many others.
Google Alerts

Copyscape is a great tool! Simply enter your site URL and Copyscape will try to find if some of your content has been copied. It can be a bit time-consuming to go through all of this, but doing this every once in a while should help.

Incoming links and trackbacks in WordPress: If you run a WordPress blog you should see a box in your dashboard with all the latest incoming links. Most of those sites will be legit and that’s great! But sometimes you’ll sometimes find links coming from sites that are stealing from you. Do something about it!
WordPress Incoming Links

Bandwidth usage on your server: look for unusual spikes and check to see where this traffic came from. Scrapper sites and splogs usually don’t receive much traffic (makes me wonder why they even bother) so it may be difficult to tell if someone is stealing your bandwidth, but it’s worth checking this every once in a while. Bandwidth theft is just as bad a design and content theft.

Network with other designers: You’d be amazed how often I get emails from fellow designers telling me an article or a design I did has been stolen. Get out there and make some friends! It will go a very long way :)

Preventing Hotlinking And Bandwidth Theft

There’s many ways you can deal with hotlinking and bandwidth theft. My favorite method is to replace the hot-linked images with another image of my choice. It’s actually very easy to do. This post by David Airey should help.

Here’s my image:

If thieves don’t comply, at least I find comfort in knowing this image is showing up on their sites.

Someone Stole Your Stuff?

Once you find out that someone is stealing from you, here are some basic things you can do. I’m not a lawyer and those are simply things I picked up along the way. What you decide to do first is up to you, but don’t jump the gun, some people simply aren’t aware they’re in the wrong.

Make sure you take screenshots and keep track of email communications. Some thieves will comply, some won’t, and others will take forever to comply but eventually will. There is no excuse for content, design or bandwidth theft, but being kind and giving people a chance to comply would be a good idea.

  • Send an email asking that the infringing material gets taken down
  • Leave a comment on the infringing blog if it’s a blog article
  • Tweet about it
  • Send a DMCA take-down notice
  • Contact the host – do a search
  • Send a DMCA to Google
  • Let advertisers know about it – take away the thief’s revenues and he’ll eventually go away

In the end, annoyance is a legitimate tactic. – Plagiarism Today

Resources And Blogs About Copyright And Plagiarism

There’s many blogs, articles and resources about copyright, plagiarism and content theft out there and I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Those should give you a head start and point you in the right direction:

How To Protect Your Work

I’ve tried a couple different apps and methods to protect my work, but my favorite so far has to be Myows. Myows, which stands for ‘My Original Works‘, is a copyright management and protection app that’s very easy to use and best of all, it’s free during the beta testing phase and the free beta accounts all get 500MB of storage.

Simply create an account, and you can start uploading your work on MyOws. More information is of course available on the Myows website!


Your Turn to Talk

Did you ever get your content or designs stolen? How did you resolve the issue? Do you have other ideas on how to protect your work and deal with thieves? I’m very interested in hearing your stories. Please take a minute to share them with the rest of us! :)


  1. says

    Awesome post Jon. with some awesome ideas on things you can do to protect yourself. A couple of the links I hadn’t known of before today. I seen the recent twitter fiasco with the site stealing your content among other top design blogs claiming that the RSS feeds were posting the full feeds. I call BS on that. but that is a whole different topic :)

  2. says

    Hey Jon!
    Yeah the content theft sucks! I know we’ve talked about this with some of the crazy stuff that went on a few weeks ago!

    Anyhow, I’ve had a ton of my articles lifted, and one way I find out about a lot of them is through my “Related Posts” plugin! I’m pretty sure that a couple of sites are just ripping my content via my RSS feed, so when they do that, they also rip off a list of five of my related posts! When they “publish” my articles, I end up getting trackbacks to my own site from the related post links.

    Nobody ever said that a lot of these thieves were smart! haha

    The only thing is, the comments usually get filtered into spam. I only find them because I monitor my spam pretty closely, since I’ve had a few legitimate comments caught in there.

  3. says

    @Mike: Thanks man! Glad you liked the post. Yeah like we have to stop offering full feeds (which readers love) to stop them from stealing – traditional stores leave their doors unlocked all day long, but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to steal from them hehe Some people are just plain ignorant I guess.

    @Matt: That’s a great idea! Clearly proves that most thieves are either ignorant or are just plain stupid :)

  4. Chris Thurman says

    I just posted your entire article on my website. Just kidding. But seriously, good insights. Isn’t immitation the most sincere form of flattery? I guess since nobody has stolen my work yet (that I know of) I shouldn’t be flattered. But then again, I’ve only been blogging for two weeks. Bring it on thieves. I’m now fully prepared. Thanks Jon!

  5. says

    Hi thanks for the post. It will help.
    Just one question. I am a new blogger. If u check my site in some of my post I mentioned your post and also used picture from your post. But I gave link.
    Is that fine?

  6. says

    @Chris: haha, well if you repost max 250 characters and you link back here and don’t hotlink images that’s cool with me. Glad you liked the article :)

    @Luigi: Email sent! Thanks for the offer, I’d be more than happy for you to translate my article!

    @Evan: I checked your site and it’s real fine! (and thanks for the link and mention) You actually took the time to upload the image to your own server and you’re not stealing anything. And for that I thank you! :)

  7. J. says

    Hi Jon!
    I was following yout articles from long ago. This is a nice one, i have to try these services.
    Months ago, a website made by me was completely stolen. And the theft was that short that didn’t change the Google Analytics code and the metatags… Viewing the Analytics charts I know that my web was uploaded to another domain.

  8. says

    @J: Wow, some people definitely have no conscience. I’d be interested to know what you did to resolve the issue? Did they eventually took the design down?

  9. says

    Nice Article Jon!

    Another way to find out who is stealing your content through RSS Feed:

    If you are using feedburner for your RSS feed. Under Analyze -> Uncommon uses -> Last 30 days.

    You will be able to find out who is ripping off your content. You will be surprise with the no. of thieves!


  10. says

    Thank you Jon for this great article and recommending our copyright management solution.

    I believe this post should become a reference bookmark for many years to come.

    The typography alone on this post is a work of art… goes to show that copyright can be found in everything you create!

  11. says

    Hi Jon,

    Nice article, makes me think about some of my own actions in the past and whether it was legitimate.

    You mention a cap of 250 characters, plus link is good with you. Is this the general feeling & practice that’s acceptable?

    Maybe a nice followup post would be about what is indeed the morally acceptable practice.

    Will Follow you on Twitter for future posts. Thanks

  12. says

    Nice article. I’ve seen a lot of peoples’ nice designs being blatantly ripped off lately. You never think it will happen, but it does.

  13. says

    get over it… how many sites are there on the web? how many zillion images? you make it sound like people are taking food out of your children’s mouth.

    there are bigger issues in the world than to worry about if someone stole a bit of design or copywriting or bandwidth

    is it wrong to steal? yes. then how much does it need to be altered? that you can debate.

    get some perspective … most of the world lives on less than $2 a day. 26,500 kids die everyday of preventable causes. there are 27 million modern day slaves, more than anytime in history – write about that!

    so what if someone linking to a photo, copying a design layout or re-purposing a similar logo design? 99.5% nobody is even going to notice.

    ps – I like that vividways logo for your portfolio – i think i’ll have to rip that one off – see you post was helpful :)

  14. says

    @Terrance: That’s a great idea! Thanks! I do check this every once in a while. You’re right, very surprising!

    @Myows: You’re very welcome! Thanks for the kind words :)

    @Michael Montgomery: Good question. For me 250 characters and a link back is acceptable, though I guess it depends slightly on where you are in the world since laws change from country to country. But yes, to me 250 characters and a link is morally acceptable.

    @Timothy: Exactly! The worst we can do it do nothing :)

    @jason pearson: This is a design blog, not I write about design because I’m passionate about design (don’t you steal that logo! hehe). I know there’s very wrong things going on in the world and we all need to do something about that, but does it also mean we should stop talking or writing about issues related to our industry?

  15. says

    One small question to Jason Pearson:

    What’s a designer, writer or photographer’s most valuable asset?

    It is their Intellectual Property. And it is only fit to take measures against it being misused.

    If you own apartments, would it be ok that people occupy them without paying rent?

    If you write books for a living, is it ok that no-one buys them but instead downloads them for free without your consent?

    This holds for many different situations. Copyright has value. It’s an internationally recognized law and it protects artists and creators’ assets.

    If you go along running a design business with a “no-one cares that I steal other people’s work” attitude, you will get yourself into trouble and lose credibility from your clients and peers.

  16. says

    Great article, very useful, spooky actually; just read one on the same topic over on Smashing Mag!

    Does anyone have any thoughts / comments on where inspiration ends and outright copying begins, and what role intention has to play? Of course nicking source / css / images, scraping content and hotlinking to files is bang out of order but…

    Case in point: I was making a simple little WP theme for a friend, spent a few hours on it then sat back and realised that a large chunk was very similar to’s design. Of course things like colour and dimension were different (full width, dark header etc.) but lot of things like font styles were the same and it even had a (blue) bar with a list of categories in 11px arial white.

    It was close enough that with a few tweaks in Firebug I made it look very reminiscent of Woorkup. I was less than happy with myself so binned it, even though I had not conciously copied the other site and had no intention to ever do so. I visit woorkup every couple of weeks so that must be where my brain got it all from.

    So could I resurrect the design with a clean conscience, or would that still amount to (unintentional) theft of another’s design?

    There are so many site out there know classed as ‘inspiration’ resources, and of course that’s how the latest design fads spread (Bokeh anyone?), so can designers be accused if theft if their work comes out very similar to anothers?

  17. says

    My site template has been stolen 4 times now that I know of, once even by a designer. It puzzles me because the code is really messy and antiquated. I decided to blog about them, making a category called “Wall Of Shame” where I put up screen shots. I caught the last one in the act and have I think 4 screen shots of the progress of the theft up in that post.

    It’s such a basic template, surely inspired from many of the commercial portfolio templates out there. But I made that myself, and people are swiping the graphics and code. If they made one just like mine but on their own, I wouldn’t even know about it nor would I care if I did. It’s pulling content off my site for their commercial use that bothers me.

    I decided to just blog about them as they happen. The only time I’ve contacted any of them directly was when they left the analytics code in and it was fouling up my stats. Told him “next time you steal a site, have the decency to remove the original owner’s analytics code so it doesn’t mess up their stats” and he had the nerve to email back and say “Done, thanks!” or something like that, lol. Nobody called or emailed me before my stuff was stolen, so I don’t feel the same duty to kind of sweep this under the rug.

    Besides, from friends that this has happened to where they’ve actually contacted the offender, it’s always some excuse as to why it happened and it’s not their fault.

  18. says

    Wow amazing info! I will definitely check out the myows site.
    I am a freelance designer of logos and such i think this is great for anything web related.

  19. says

    Great article!
    I really enjoyed that you talked about ways to prevent theft instead of just talking how to react once you have been ripped off.
    The idea with the image that is displayed to hot-linkers is awesome as well! Nowadays many hosts also offer an automatic hotlinking protection.

  20. says

    Thanks for yet another awesome article Jon!

    I don’t come here as much as i WANT to but, you ALWAYS have quality content and articles that we can start using “right off the bat”

    Keep it up!


  1. Simple Tips To Prevent And Deal With Content And Design Theft…

    If you think no one ever stole any of your work it is only because you haven’t found out about it yet! Trust me, it will happen. It sucks, but there are ways to deal with this….

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