Dealing with Plagiarism of your work

Call it what you will; plagiarism, theft, rip off, infringement, paying homage, this sort of thing happens everyday on the web.

As designers and developers there is nothing worse than seeing your carefully crafted website appear under the accreditation of someone else (usually in a crude, bastardised version of its former self). Our designs, infuse our personality, our individuality, our creativity, our time, our labour, our understanding of our discipline and in one moment, it has become the new shop front of a stranger.

Let’s define plagiarism by looking at the definition from www.plagiarism.org

Many people think of plagiarism as copying another’s work, or borrowing someone else’s original ideas. But terms like “copying” and “borrowing” can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to “plagiarize” means

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.

We love the openness of HTML & CSS and the ability to look at someone else’s code and figure out how things work. That is how we learn from each other and that is what makes the web community so great. The danger of course is that this also leaves your work open to abuse from plagiarists. More often than not a simple cut and paste from the source code will all but surrender your code, but more sophisticated methods include freely available programs that in a few clicks, can actually suck an entire website down, including scripts, CSS, sub pages, fav icons, images etc… a scary thought I know.

I am of course speaking from experience, as this very website has been plagiarised on countless occasions. Some have been genuine mistakes from young designers who are still learning the difference between influence and imitation, but others have done so, conscientiously knowing they have taken someone else’s work in its entirety and are passing it off as their own (on many occasions this is work that a client has paid good money for). A total lack of respect for the originator of the work.

The Name and Shame gallery

Here are some recent examples of folk who have plagiarised this website. Some of these cases include direct copies, others as you can see include some attempt to customise it. Click on the image for full view.

Jason Shore – Secret Robot

My website was entirely copied and hosted at www.secretrobot.co.uk. The Name, location, portfolio, contact and copyright information was changed and then re-uploaded as images. Even my tweets and personal projects remained but this site has since been removed by the plagiarist.

Fatih Konstanz

Once again my website has been entirely copied and this plagiarised version is still currently hosted at www.fkorkmaz.de. Strangely only the name and location has been changed, which you will note from the site still points to my home town of Belfast, yet this person is from Germany. My portfolio, tweets, screencasts all remain, so effectively this plagiarist is passing all my work off as their own. The contact form is non functional so I am currently pursuing the take down of this copy.

Dave Topping

The plagiarist in this instance copied my entire site and amended it for their own use at www.topping98.co.uk. Funnily enough the spinning moustache was removed from my robot brand, which to say the least made him look ever so awkward. This site has since been removed after a cease and desist was sent.

The Ideacorners

I have literally just come across this website at time of writing so have yet to follow this up. While attempts have been made to customise it by changing the colours and some of the imagery, the fact remains that the code and design has been directly lifted from my website (compare the source code if you want to see). The disappointing thing about this is the plagiarist, is also apparently an educator who teaches Interactive Design and Web Programming at a College. As an Educator and University Lecturer in Interactive Design myself, I find this lapse in judgement hard to believe.

I can honestly tell you it is an awful feeling to witness the audacity of some people, who make only minimal changes to your hard work, by removing your name and copyright notice and slapping on their own. There are many fantastic free websites and resources out there that anyone can download and customise for their own personal use, so there really are no excuses for cases of plagiarism of this nature. It is blatant theft.

Your website has been stolen, what next?

  1. The first step is to build a case. Take screenshots of the copied website. Run a whois (www.whois.com/whois/) and note who the hosting company is, and of course if they haven’t protected it, you might get a name and contact details of the owner.
  2. Contact the person in question. When writing an email. It is important not to go in guns blazing, but instead offer a constructive and informative record of the violations they have committed. If you can’t find an email for them, it is worth a Google search to see if they have a Twitter account or other social networking presence, but make absolutely sure it is the right person, before you make any accusations. There are some great templates to help you with the legal wording and I have adapted my own from the Plagiarism Today website.

    Dear {name}

    It has come to my attention that you, have made unauthorised use of copyright protected material that I own. Your page, located at: {their website} blatantly copied my website located at: {your website}

    I have reserved all rights to the code, design, narrative which you have used on your website. You neither asked for nor received permission to use the work nor to publish your own copy of it. Furthermore, you have taken credit for my work and caused confusion as to whom the original author of the work is, therefore, I believe you have wilfully infringed my rights.

    You are asked to immediately remove the website, and all copies of it, and destroy such copies immediately, and that you desist from this or any other infringement of my rights in the future.

    Your prompt reply is appreciated.

    Sincerely,

  3. If after 24 hours you haven’t received a response and the site is still online, it is time to contact the company with whom the site is hosted. Explain the situation and make sure you read up on their terms or service as it is good to quote these back to the hosting company when you contact them.

    “I would request that as this violates my rights, your Terms of Service agreement, and of The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) that this site be removed immediately from the web and the owner contacted explaining the violation”

  4. Use the community. Never underestimate the power of social networking in situations like this. Time and time again I have witnessed the web community rally together against cases of plagiarism to make their voices heard on the likes of Twitter. It may be one thing to ignore one person, but it is a lot more difficult to ignore a bombardment of tweets. These sort of name and shame tactics usually make an initially reluctant infringer, comply with the demands to remove the plagiarised content.
  5. If at this stage neither the infringer or the web hosts have responded to your requests, you should consider contacting Google. I don’t know much about this procedure, however it is Google’s policy to respond to notices of copyright infringement. More information available at http://www.google.co.uk/dmca.html
  6. If all else fails, it is worth contacting the DMCA, a Solicitor/Lawyer, Trading Standards or Citizens Advice for legal aid. In serious situations where scam/fraud is involved you may need to contact the Police, who will take a statement from you and pass it on to their eCrimes unit for investigation. Make sure you have kept a record of all correspondence between you and the violating party and provide evidence of your initial design work to prove you are the originator of the work.

How to find out if your site has been plagiarised?

Use a search engine. A good starting point is a Google search for some copy or keywords. It is also worth trying the fantastic Copyscape.com which will search all the copy on your page and list any duplicates it finds.

Copyscape

Google Image search. You can now search Google with an image, for example an illustration, brand or photograph and it will find any matches or similar images. This isn’t 100% accurate, but it is a solid starting point for basic investigations.

Google Image Search

Vigilance. If people are aware of your work, likelihood is someone will spot a thief. I’ve discovered several cases of plagiarism through other people spotting it & notifying me. It is a fantastic feeling to know that the web community looks out for each other.

How to protect your website

Know your rights and know the laws that protect your intellectual property. These vary depending on your country of origin, so a quick Google search may lead you on the right path to find this information.

Free online Copyright Protection site Myows is A great resource for registering and time stamping all types of work.

“Myows offers a professional one-stop copyright management solution from registration through to issuing take-down notices. You’ll get access to a global copyright savvy creative community as well as expert legal information and great advice! Thousands of members use Myows every day to protect their intellectual property and show others that they take their work and their rights seriously.”

Myows.com

Share your progress and finished work on showcase sites such as Dribbble, Forrst and CSS Galleries. These effectively time-stamp visuals of your work, so these can also be included when compiling a case to prove the existence of your site before the plagiarism occurred.

Dribbble

What can we do?

At the end of the day plagiarism is not confined to the web. It happens in all aspects of life, from entertainment to product design. I feel we can all play a role within the discipline in which we specialise to educate others in the appropriate professional practices and in understanding what separates inspiration from imitation. Jessica Hische sums this up superbly in the apdtly named comic Inspiration vs Imitation or Why you should know your shit. Governments continually tender laws, acts and rights that are ill-informed and reactive to a situation, rather than looking at the bigger picture. Schools & Universities have had enough time to adopt the web and put in place measures to educate and support it within learning, in the same way research, dissertations, homeworks etc should be appropriately referenced to credit the sources of information. Businesses also have a responsibility to themselves, staff and clients to uphold an appropriate practice when it comes to the work they are producing, so it is we, the professional web community who are at the forefront of educating and discouraging plagiarism within our industry.

The victims of plagiarism

Plagiarism affects the livelihood of good, honest designers and developers, who have spent many years learning the craft, understanding the industry and vying for business. It devalues our work, our reputation and costs us money, not to mention the shear amount of time you waste compiling cases against plagiarists. Your work could be sold on to others without you ever knowing, which is effectively taking money from your own pocket. Clients are tricked into believing the person who they have asked to do work for them is the originator of the work, when in fact, a plagiarist is passing other peoples work off as their own for their own personal gain. In many situations were money is involved this can be likened to the selling of stolen goods.

It saddens me to have to write a post like this, but awareness and education is our greatest defence against plagiarism. I hope this will help anyone who has been a victim of plagiarism, regardless of its severity. Please feel free to share this post and spread the word and I’d like to hear your thoughts on how plagiarism has affected you.

One comment on “Dealing with Plagiarism of your work

  1. Very useful information. I plan to become a web designer/developer after graduating college.

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