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 zeldman.com 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.