Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Thieving Bastards

The epidemic of content and design thieving continues unabated, and I am getting sick of the issue. And even as I wrote this, another discussion pops up on where I have to defend my position.

The problem with the Web, because it is so fast, fluid, and unsettlingly ubiquitous, is the prevalence of mouth-breathing thieves who somehow convinced their tiny little brains that stealing is OK. This devolved sub-species convinces companies that they have an understanding of originality and creativity, when in all reality their “work” is just plundered from designers who actually give a shit about crafting something new and engaging.

My company recently had its core design stolen. Some things were changed, but long passages of CSS were lifted, an entire library of graphics was appropriated, and icons, styles, colors and everything else that gave our site a voice in our marketplace were thieved.

Now I would guess that most people reading this are designers, and you may or may not have experienced this in the past. But as my company’s creative director, I love content equally, and I have found no less than four other sites that have lifted entire pages of text — all of them competitors. One “company” even copied our entire site, changing only the product names and the color orange to green. (They have since gone to a different design, but still retain copied text and graphics. Further cease and desist letters have not helped. Not that I would expect these knuckle-dragging goat fuckers to be able to read any better than they can not write.)

Serendipitously, as I started writing this, Zeldman published this on his site:

Don’t worry about people stealing your design work. Worry about the day they stop.

With all due respect to a seasoned advertising man and the father of the web standards movement, this statement is bullshit. Maybe some young buck blogger can convince themselves that their site is getting stolen is a good thing, but to me, who makes a living on my design and writing skills, this sentence is nothing more than a half-cocked, fundamentally ridiculous anecdote written specifically to incite a reaction. It smacks so strongly of Oscar Wilde (“there is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”) that I almost think Zeldman is trying to make a joke. But then I read the sad comments, with people actually agreeing with him, and I feel we, as a creative community, have missed something along the way. (And yes, I responded with these thoughts.)

Here’s the deal. When some lazy dumbass steals your design or copy (or both), he is weakening your competitive edge. While bloggers may not care, corporations do. It’s why the copyright, trademark, and patent offices exist, and why there are a legion of lawyers enforcing those institutions. It’s also why Pirated Sites, Flickr groups and others exist to expose them.

For my company, our website is a key marketing tool. Our design means something; it’s a reflection of our brand values. Similarly, we put tremendous effort into our copy. I personally manage four writers who all contribute to the site, and it’s insanity that their hard work is diluted by some Neanderthal using the copy and paste function.

Of course there’s no realistic way to stop this. The world is populated by plenty of people without scruples, and a certain percentage of them will continue to make a living deceiving clients and companies about the originality of their work. Makes the case for a certification of quality even stronger, in my opinion.

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Thursday December 6, 2007

It makes me really sad to hear you’ve been ripped off.

For someone of Mr. Zeldman’s status in the industry, a rip off is a very different affair, because everyone knows his name and his work is easily associated with him.

For those of us still establishing our voice, rip offs dilute our value for all the people who don’t yet recognize our work.

And lastly, it’s not easy to shrug off. When you pour your time and love into something, it really hurts when someone else takes credit for it. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive, but I take a lot of pride in my work.

Nate Klaiber

wrote the following on Thursday December 6, 2007

I think I side more with you in this particular issue. When it comes to anything related to our processes being stolen, we could always say ‘there are bigger fish to fry’ – but that simply isn’t true in all cases. As you said, you work hard to establish a brand and identity. Someone stealing that work needs attention.

What if bigger corporations just said ‘oh, well who cares if they stole our Coca Cola logo?’ or ‘who cares if they stole our Apple logo?’ Obviously, this is not the case and not reality. Businesses, whether small or large take pride in their work, their branding, and their message. To have it skewed by someone who can’t think for themselves only complicates matters.

So do we just sit back and take it, then? Is that the only solution here?

* I understand the context of the argument is talking about exact duplicates and stealing, not just learning and implementing. There is a big difference between the two, and it usually comes down to laziness on the ‘developers’ part.


wrote the following on Monday December 10, 2007

Your anger is justified. What jerks!

The reality is they probably won’t really make much if any return on what they stole. They’ll scrap it and move on. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done and uniqueness cannot be returned.

I’ve had writing and code stolen before and it is frustrating. To say it’s the nature of the beast may be true, but it doesn’t make the anger go away.

Sorry I can’t contribute a solution to make it better, but hopefully you’ll know that your vent resounds among understanding ears.


wrote the following on Saturday March 8, 2008

Omg, what Jeffrey Zeldman states is not bullshit at all. Stealing information sounds incredibly stupid to me. You can’t steal something untangible. Unauthorized disclosure yes, stealing no. So please state you did it, or let it be to publish it. That will do. If you can’t accept it, then sorry pal, you lose in the long run. Concerning your ‘competitve edge’, if you are a ‘greedy capitalist’ and try to ‘own’ intangibles you lose. The law of physics prevails after all. Like it or not, those ‘dumbass thieves’ are part of your global audience. They are the same idiots who report site-ripoffs just because they saw some web site template reused. But that’s also okay because it perfectly matches the mentality of those who maintain such kind of forums. Btw, this blog post is not about the design of this site, is it? Because I like it soo much, and my site is soo ugly. I guess I’ll rip it off. Now it’s your turn. Think about it.