My Website Design Was Stolen! Now What?

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Designers spend hours perfecting websites, whether their own or their clients’. When you’ve invested anywhere from a few days to months in a website, the last thing you want is for someone else to steal the design without even giving you proper credit (or compensation). And if you’re a template or theme designer, it’s an even bigger problem. After all, if your templates are available online for free, a lot of people won’t bother paying for them.

So what can you do if you’ve discovered that one of your designs has been ripped off? What should you do? Read on for a complete guide to steps you can take to protect your intellectual property.

I am not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be one on TV, so the advice here should not be taken as legal advice. Before taking any of the actions mentioned below, check with a lawyer or other legal expert to see what is allowable in your state or country or to see if additional options are available to you.

1. Why People Steal Designs

Not everyone who steals a design is out to rip you off. There are a variety of reasons; one of the most common is that many people just don’t understand that stealing someone else’s design is illegal and unethical. Of course, if you’re selling templates or themes, that probably isn’t the case, but if a one-off design of yours has been stolen, it’s always a possibility.

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The myth persists that if content is put online, it’s fair game. Others think that if a copyright isn’t explicitly stated, then it doesn’t exist. In either case, the person who has taken your design likely doesn’t realize that they’ve done anything wrong.

In other cases, someone might take your design because they feel it’s an excellent example of what a website in their niche should look like or because the company behind the website is a leader in the industry. These people may or may not realize that what they’re doing is wrong or at least may not realize just how wrong it is.

Some people steal designs because they can’t afford to hire a website designer but have just enough technical know-how to copy a website themselves. These people rarely suspect they’ll be caught. The same sometimes happens with people who have been hired to design a website but lack the skills to do the job. And so they copy another website, hoping their client has never seen it.

Sometimes, someone will steal the bulk of your design but change small parts and then claim they were merely inspired by the design and didn’t really steal it. Unless they completely recreated the website from scratch and made significant changes (and even then…), this isn’t a good defense, and you can still treat them as though they they stole it outright.

If you sell templates, and someone has used one of them on their website, they may not realize that this is wrong. Plenty of forums and other websites out there make templates available for anyone to download, and some make no mention that these are not licensed to be distributed in this way. So don’t jump to the conclusion that someone intentionally stole your design. Of course, the people distributing your templates are probably guilty.

I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to intellectual property theft. If it’s happening to you for the first time, then it can be tempting to go after them with full force, but in many cases you’ll have better luck educating the offender.

2. Initial Steps

So, you’ve discovered that someone has stolen one of your designs. Whether you’ve discovered it yourself or someone has reported it to you, it can be a jarring experience. Your first reaction might be to fire off an angry email, make a comment on their website or out them publicly. But step back for a moment and think through your options.

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The way you handle this situation will largely determine how satisfied you are with the resolution. If you attack the person, their immediate reaction will be to get defensive or dig in their heels and refuse to deal with you. They may even contact a lawyer to get you off their back, and that could result in expensive legal fees and even litigation for you: Not exactly what most designers want to spend their money and energy on.

Finding the Website Owner

The first place to check is the website itself. In most cases, you’ll find some kind of contact information there. If not (or you find only a contact form), you can usually find the website owner by looking up the Whois information about the domain. If the domain is privately registered, though, you may have to contact the Web host to obtain contact information. If that fails, your last option may be to use legal channels.

The First Contact

Remember, the person ripping off your design might not even know they’re doing something wrong. Your first contact is an opportunity to educate them on intellectual property rights. Don’t accuse. Let them know that the design they’re currently using is copyrighted and that unless they can prove they’ve paid for it, you’ll need them to take the website down immediately.

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It’s possible that the website owner is unaware that their design is not original. If they’ve hired a less-than-reputable designer, they might have been led to believe that their design is completely original, and your email will come as quite a shock to them. Keeping your first email friendly and polite can make a huge difference in how they respond.

If You Don’t Hear Back

If you don’t hear back from the website owner after a few days, you can always contact their ISP to request that it take the website down. If you can provide proof that the design is yours and that they aren’t licensed to use it, many ISPs will suspend the website to avoid being sucked into litigation should you decide to sue.

Issue a DMCA Take-Down Notice

This only applies in the United States, but the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has provisions for dealing with intellectual property theft online. You can get a template of the formal notice, fill it out and send it to the website’s host. Most hosts will immediately comply, to protect themselves from litigation.

Call Them Out Publicly

If you’re 100% positive that the person has copied your website intentionally, and they aren’t responding to your requests to take it down, you could call them out publicly on your blog, in a forum or on another website.

This is riskier, though. First of all, they could sue you for libel. Whether they’d win or not is irrelevant: fighting a lawsuit is almost always expensive and time-consuming. They don’t have to be right to file a lawsuit; so even if everything you say is true and accurate, nothing is stopping them from following that course.

But this kind of action has its upsides. If your blog has a lot of readers or the forum has a lot of followers, you might get others to join your cause and act on your behalf to get the offending website taken down. The offender might relent, not wanting the negative publicity. But again, weigh the pros and cons carefully, and take this step cautiously.

Document Everything!

Document any actions you take regarding the theft. Note when you discovered the offending site, when you contacted the owner and whether they responded. This will help if you end up having to take further action.

3. Getting Legal Help

If you still aren’t getting anywhere on your own, it might be time to contact a lawyer. A lawyer will probably begin by sending an official cease and desist letter to the offender. The letter would likely state that the design they’re using is copyrighted material and that they need to take the website down immediately or face further legal action.

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In many cases, an official letter from a lawyer is enough to scare off just about anyone, and you’ll find the design is quickly changed or taken down altogether.

However, if there’s still no response, the lawyer might send a similar letter to the website’s host, demanding that the website be suspended due to copyright infringement. Hosts are usually responsive to this kind of letter, because they don’t want to be sued.

If neither action works, the next step may be a lawsuit. In many cases, though, it’s just not work the time, effort or money involved. This is when you should sit down and really think about how far you’re willing to go.

If the person who stole your design is simply using it on their own website, you probably won’t want to bother with a lawsuit. The effect on your income probably won’t be big enough to warrant this kind of action. But if the offender is redistributing your design or passing it off as their own (for example, in their portfolio), then the lawsuit might be worth it. Ask your lawyer what they think your chances of winning are and what the costs will be.

Depending on your country of residence, you may be able to get assistance from the government in taking down the design. Check with the office responsible for copyright and intellectual property rights in your country to find the proper authorities to contact.

4. Preventing Theft

You can do a number of things to prevent your designs from being stolen. Some are technical solutions, while others relate more to the front end.

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Non-Technical Solutions

Simply posting a copyright notice on your website will deter many would-be offenders, especially people who don’t realize that online content is copyrighted unless specified otherwise. It might also deter people who know it is illegal but hope they won’t be caught. It shows you’re more proactive than other website owners.

Technical Solutions

One thing you can do to prevent theft of your designs is to block screenscraper apps from accessing your code. While blocking every screenscraper out there is impossible, the article “Preventing Design Theft: A Few Tricks of the Trade6” has both PHP and ASP code that can help you block most of them.

Use your .htaccess file to prevent images on your website from being hotlinked, because some thieves will go so far as to link images directly from your website, rather than use their own bandwidth.

Finding Out if Your Website Has Been Ripped Off

Usually, you won’t know that your design has been stolen unless you come across it on a website (which is very unlikely) or unless someone has reported it to you (only slightly more likely). Watchdog websites are out there, but the most popular one, Pirated-Sites7, was hacked and has been taken offline.

By including unique text in your footer or elsewhere in the design, you might be able to find thieves by searching for those key phrases. This is not always effective, but you might get lucky.

One other option is to use a website such as CopyScape8, which looks for duplicate websites. Just enter your website’s URL and it looks for websites out there that have copied your content (and possibly your design).

5. If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Join ’Em

If you’re spending more time chasing down thieves than actually designing, you might want to consider making your designs publicly available. Releasing them under a Creative Commons license or other open-source license removes the temptation for many thieves.

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Even designers who make a living selling templates could benefit from open licenses, if only in part. Selling your templates under a non-commercial Creative Commons license and then offering additional services to customers who purchase the designs directly from you (such as set-up, customization and support) can prevent others from profiting from your work (and entirely remove the temptation for many). After all, if someone can get your template for free, why would they pay someone else for it? (This is different than paying you for it, because you’re offering added benefits and services, and many people believe in compensating the original designer or artist for their work).

If nothing else, a no-derivatives license can at least help ensure that you’re getting credit for your work. As strange as it sounds, a template released under a Creative Commons license is no longer a motivation for many pirates.

Further Resources

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Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeblogs/3020135605/
  2. 2 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/828198
  3. 3 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1215930
  4. 4 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/952313
  5. 5 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/883988
  6. 6 http://blog.webdistortion.com/2008/05/11/preventing-design-theft-a-few-tricks-of-the-trade/
  7. 7 http://www.pirated-sites.com/
  8. 8 http://www.copyscape.com
  9. 9 http://www.sxc.hu/photo/913724
  10. 10 http://articles.sitepoint.com/article/theft-webmasters-recourse
  11. 11 http://onwired.com/blog/dealing-with-design-theft/
  12. 12 http://www.blissfullyaware.com/design/fighting-design-theft/
  13. 13 http://www.flickr.com/groups/designtheft/pool/
  14. 14 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/07/07/copyright-explained-i-may-copy-it-right/

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Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 6 years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of The Smashing Idea Book: From Inspiration to Application.

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  1. 1

    “Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity”???
    Written by a girl with 6 years of experience???
    Is she a celebrity??? No, so her article… hummmm…
    Hehehehehehehe, now everybody writes :D!
    Great, free open space for everyone :P

    -5
  2. 2

    Hey! You stole my article! ;) Just kidding.

    1
  3. 3

    Bottom line, unless you have a team of good lawyers at your disposal, you’re helpless.

    0
    • 4

      Don’t think so. You can always try getting the online community behind you then it would be much easier to have action taken. Remember you can contact the web host and prove evidence (I think this sometimes works?)

      0
      • 5

        Don’t think contacting web host would help though…

        0
      • 6

        @Alexey – in most cases it would. Especially for the more reputable hosts. They don’t want their reputation tarnished for aiding an abetting a criminal. Which is what it is basically classed as.

        0
        • 7

          Even if a host pulls down a website, its fairly easy to repost the website on another domain. I’m a lawyer and I can say from legal experience that as long as a domain is registered, it cannot be pulled down unless criminal activity is suspected. And in almost every country, copyright theft is considered a misdemeanor or less, which legally cannot result in domain seizing.

          0
    • 8
      • 9

        I didn’t have a design stolen, but I did have some content scraped. I contacted the host of the offending site, GoDaddy, and the account was suspended the next day.

        0
    • 10

      Most people would freak out as soon as you mention lawyers, no one ever said you have to have any ;)

      0
    • 11

      I strongly disagree. I’ve been on the other side of the fence. Someone accused me of stealing a design. I was arrested, had property seized, question, bailed. After being re-bailed a further three times the case was dropped due to lack of evidence.

      I did not use any legal help. I was cleared because I was innocent. Not every case comes down to being “screwed if you don’t have top lawyers.”

      2
  4. 12

    copyright is the word!

    0
  5. 13

    yeah, it’s like quote of Pablo Picasso “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.”

    0
  6. 15

    This post should be called “10 examples of breathtaking stock-photos.”

    3
  7. 19

    It is very difficult to get someone to take a site down, regardless of legal ramifications…

    I have been there…one thing I have learned, not that I agree with stealing, but really it is a sign of respect, they like your work that much they want to use it, let them…

    If you talk about on your bog, people will know which came first….

    0
  8. 20

    if you stop hotlinking by .htaccess keep in mind, that some feedreaders won’t be able to get access to the images either. thus stopping hotlinking isn’t the best solution for blogs and other sites, that distribute content by rss.

    0
  9. 21

    There isn’t enough support for this, there is nothing more frustrating than working hard on something and then some so called designer helping themselves. They are stealing your style and it is very difficult to get anything done. Name and same is the way forward.

    0
  10. 22

    Excellent article, Cameron.

    I haven’t been victim to this myself, but have seen it numerous times (some, even, by popular, reputable & otherwise very well liked designers).

    Thanks for putting this information in one place :)

    0
  11. 23

    I actually purchased a design from a designer with in the Theme forest group not one of their templates. But he freelanced a design for me. Turns out he ripped it off from another designer. I was asked to pull it down and I did. I was out all of my money. Now I have a generic site up that’s embarrassing to me. Wasted a lot of time and money but right is right and would never steal something that was not mine.

    0
    • 24

      Did you confront the designer about it? I’d be demanding my money back.

      0
    • 25

      This is a website for web developers and designers. Why in the world are you paying for a design in the first place?? Make your own. If you dont want a generic site…build your own.

      -3
    • 26

      What you will find with that a lot of sites have the same basic templates. The images, borders, text, and colors may change that make it look different. So just because someone CLAIMS that your site was stolen from their website they have to do a lot more than just claim. This is the biggest problem out their people who think that just because a site looks like theirs it most have been stolen from their website. It is nothing than pure ego. Put your site back up.

      1
  12. 27

    If you have copyrighted your work, would not another option be to offer to license the work to the alleged offenders? Licensing for a fee might be a rather non-threatening “get out of jail free” card to offer, benefiting both parties.

    0
  13. 28

    I’d like to take Tom’s idea one step further. Why not just send them a billl? :)

    What I like is when someone uses your eBay images that are on your server in their eBay auction. It’s so much fun! I just change the image to something like “Buy 1 get 2 free”. The image is removed from their auction in about a day.

    2
  14. 30

    Hm it would be a pleasure for me if anyone steal my design :) Stealing is the evidence that it was made good.

    0
    • 31

      Unless their website gets more famous thank yours…
      Otherwise it would be an honor, indeed :)

      1
  15. 32

    Once something is published, online or not, it is automatically covered by copyright.

    Oddly enough, this article is pretty much the same as an article on another blog a few months back. Can’t remember what though, came about after Delete had their design stolen.

    Anyway. I think a lot of what is said here is a little over the top. People ‘steal’ ideas from designs all the time, any type of design, unless someone has copied you graphic for graphic and/or word for word then you should take it as a compliment.

    0
  16. 33

    Dudes, don’t sweat it.

    First of all, a design cannot be “stolen” since stealing implies the victim looses whatever has been stolen. “Copying” is a better term.

    Secondly, it CAN be illegal, because when the “theft” crosses country borders, it might become legal.

    Third. Take it as a COMPLIMENT. Whoever copied your design, must like it so much that he/she takes all that effort to copy it.

    0
  17. 34

    I’m sure I have read this article somewhere else..

    0
    • 35

      Wow. I’m impressed.

      Isn’t it crazy that sometimes people write about the same subject? /sarcasm

      Seriously people, get off her back. Who cares. It’s informative.

      0
      • 36

        It was a joke fella, its an article about IP theft, so I suggested it was stolen, do you see what I did there?

        However when reading some sections they were very very similar to some other articles on the net ;)

        3
  18. 37

    Something closely related just happened to me. I’m consulting for a company and several months ago I completely redesigned and developed their entire website…all on my own. They have another graphic design company they occasionally use for some print material, holiday cards, etc. Well the other day I went to their website just to see what their portfolio looks like and saw something very surprising and infuriating. In their portfolio, under the title “Things We Create” there was a nice big screen shot of the site I both design and developed.

    To say I was pissed is an understatement. I spoke to the person I report to and he said he called them and asked them to take it down, but I just checked and it’s STILL up there!

    0
    • 38

      Something very similar just happened to me.

      I received a google alert regarding a site I created, and it turns out some guy on a freelance design website is claiming he developed my site.

      With no way to contact the person directly, I used the website’s “report violation” procedure but after almost 2 weeks nothing has changed. Pretty frustrating, indeed.

      0
  19. 39

    I don’t believe this! I just found out that I site I designed was ripped off. I LOVE YOU SMASHING MAGAZINE!!!!

    0
  20. 41

    my guess is that most people here might like to think of this article as something that could happen to them, when in reality it won’t.

    0
  21. 42

    I think taking it as a compliment is indeed the best way to deal with these situations. While it can be frustrating to see your designs being used in ways over which you have no control, the experience should serve to push you to keep evolving your own designs, to develop even more innovative and unique ideas, and to enjoy yourself in the process.

    0
  22. 43

    I’m going to call out http://iphonewinelist.com/tour.htm publicly on smashing magazine for stealing our ENTIRE site http://www.freshplatform.com . If you are going to steal a site at least change ALL the content! ;)

    Saying “imitation the best form of flattery” really doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

    0
  23. 44

    “Unless they completely recreated the website from scratch and made significant changes (and even then…), this isn’t a good defense, and you can still treat them as though they they stole it outright.”

    You really start getting into shades of grey here. When does their site stop becoming a rip-off? If I pull up Smashingmagazine.com in Photoshop to use as a layout guide, does that count as stealing their design? What if nothing original remains? What if, in copying the layout, I make significant changes so that it doesn’t resemble the original layout at all?

    If you’re into philosophy, look up the ‘Ship of Theseus’ in Wikipedia

    1
  24. 46

    This is a very informative article. Thanks for sharing it.

    0
  25. 47

    Never had anyone steal my design but a few of my portfolio items have ended up in other company’s portfolios…not really anything I can do. I try to tag most of my sites (if the client allows) with “site by my company” but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

    I just try to take it as a complement and move on. My business is doing well and copying work will catch up those people eventually.

    0
  26. 48

    I would think it would be flattering to have a design stolen/copied from me and it would give someone that push to improve on the old concept or make something better. Also, I appreciate the author writing the article. However, it is hard to take advice on web/graphic design issues from someone who only has their writings/articles in their portfolio and no works (graphically) that they have created. While the article is informative, its that whole “have they done web design or dealt with this before” concept.

    1
  27. 49

    I think it’s ridiculous that you’d even suggest allowing your designs to be stolen by licensing them via Creative Commons. I realise that it might be frustrating to continually fight against these people but if you’ve put the work in to design something that is great and original why should you allow someone else to simply copy and paste it into their project?

    0
  28. 50

    I am not a lawyer

    Obviously, so don’t use ‘legal’ terms like “stolen”. It’s the very same idiocy as the music and film industry would like to believe us.

    1
  29. 51

    I am not a lawyer but I know one quite well who specializes in Trademark and Copyright and they say unless it has been registered with the US Copyright office no lawyer wants to take your case because apparently unless it is registered within 3 months of “publication” you cant recover attorney fees or any statutory damages. I would think in the future these kind of articles should actually consult with the legal community before making legal arguments.

    0
  30. 52

    “Issue a DMCA Take-Down Notice… Most hosts will immediately comply, to protect themselves from litigation.”
    Seriously?!? So a Copycat can copy your site, then send a notice to YOUR host asking to have YOUR site taken down and the host will immediately comply?

    On the other side of the same coin:
    How are you supposed to prove that a design was originally yours?

    2
  31. 53

    I found an ex-coworker’s portfolio online recently and he has taken credit for some of my designs. He wasn’t even a part of several of the projects listed. Kind of frustrating, but apparently he liked my designs quite a bit.

    0
    • 54

      So what? He is just trying to get a job. Unless you are losing money, whats the big deal??

      This whole article is stupid. Apple’s website gets imitated so often, and yet, people know its from Apple. Are we going to cry when people steal our layouts too? Gimme a break.

      Tired of people complaining about “losing” something when they arent losing a single penny, only pride that “oh my, they stole my design”.

      I have seen lots of 3d work get stolen by Taiwanese and Chinese video card manufacturers for their packaging. Who cares?? You can always just say its your work, you know…like, it really is. Unless im a fine artist and I make a living by selling a piece of artwork….but then, I wouldnt exactly be posting my artwork all over the place before I got paid for it. So if you are mad that you posted a piece of artwork for free on the net, and someone used it…guess what, sucks to be you. Next time….sell it first.

      5
  32. 55

    I just redesigned because my old site was stolen 4 times. It was a 1 page portfolio site which was very enticing to asshole thieves.

    In most cases I contacted the assholes hosting company and they took it down pretty quickly.

    I hide my name in the css a few times and hide a 1px x 1px image in the HTML.

    I hate thieves and hope they all get hit by a bus and die painfully.

    -1
    • 56

      Thanks alot….now I have to spend time re-stealing the new design. Geez….a thief’s work is never done!

      LOL…j/k

      0
  33. 57

    You forget one important differentiation: Whether the people who ripped off your design are trying to profit through the use of the aforementioned or not. If you find your design on a private, non-profit website for instance, using terms like ‘stolen’ or even considering to get an attorney seems pretty out of line, to say the least.

    If, on the other hand, they try to actually profit from your hard work in a substantial way, then I agree on taking whatever steps necessary (and you can still view it as a compliment and incentive to improve your skills).

    0
  34. 58

    Lengthy process …huh. good advice though. But its all about ethics.

    0
  35. 59

    “The same sometimes happens with people who have been hired to design a website but lack the skills to do the job.”

    How true. I work for an antique dealer who paid a large sum of money to someone who lacked the skills to do the job. What did the designer do? He copied the website from somewhere else, down to the META TAGS!! I busted him bigtime. He knew he was wrong, decided to relinquish webmaster rights to me, end of story.

    And no, my employers didn’t get their money back.

    0
  36. 60

    I am an IP attorney and wanted to add a couple things.

    It is rather inexpensive and easy to register a copyright with the copyright office. I always suggest to my clients that they register their sites. Sadly, often the registration are rejected for being insufficiently artistic. Still, filing the paperwork will give you the right to sue, which is something you want, even if you decide not to use it.

    As far as a DMCA takedown notice goes, I’d suggest you speak with a lawyer before firing one off yourself. They can be tricky and if you’re not prepared to sue, can be a waste of time.

    1
  37. 61

    as it comes to design I think that it is really hard to make sure nothing is stolen or copied. I’ve had my digital paintings “stolen” a few years ago. At first I was upset as people were putting it on their websites and in their designs without my consent. Then I realized I should be proud that my ideas and my paintings were good enough to be used by others.

    I recently read about what the German band Laibach does. It uses a lot of material of other artists but with the belief that originality is a myth and that because something is never original it cannot be stolen. The more known German band Rammstein used some of Laibach’s material and they never thought about taking them to court. Laibach’s statement was: “Laibach does not believe in originality… Therefore, Rammstein could not ‘steal’ much from us. They simply let themselves get inspired by our work, which is absolutely a legitimate process. We are glad that they made it. In a way, they have proven once again that a good ‘copy’ can make more money on the market than the ‘original.” I do not completely agree with their ideas but I do agree with the main gist!

    Sharing ideas is good, Changing it to make it even better and put in different ideas is even better. I think the last point “If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Join ’Em” is a really good one! Licence your designs under creative commons for others to use and base their inspirations on. You might even get inspired yourself ;-).

    0
  38. 62

    overall, pointless post …and statement like…

    “Use your .htaccess file to prevent images on your website from being hotlinked, because some thieves will go so far as to link images directly from your website, rather than use their own bandwidth.”

    …is simply hilarious.

    2
  39. 63

    While the 123 site did steal (and left the alt tag Oops!) it does not look as well as the other. Asda Finance looks nice within the template and has more too it. I don’t think that 123 gained anything by stealing a design they failed to use effectively. What a waste.

    *Note: I do not condone design theft!

    0
  40. 64

    I wish that there were more direct resources, examples and images of some sites that have been copied. I think think it would have made the article more complete and backed up some of the statements.

    Overall good read.

    0
  41. 65

    Here’s how Work [at] Play handled it…

    http://think.workatplay.com/content/our-website-being-flattered-should-we-open-source-it

    http://ow.ly/976Z (one source of “flattery”)

    0
  42. 66

    After reading this post and all of the comments as well, I came to my conclusion(s):

    1) If you are a lawyer and your site has been ripped – no problem, you can sort it yourself. Otherwise its not worth the hassle – i’ve gone through this, as of today, 4 times.

    2) If you are a webdesigner and have created some awesome designs, you should be aware that others will be inspired by them. A design that stands out from the crowd will always get more attention than the standard 3 column layout.

    3) Blatent scraping without modification(s) is obviously not wanted and not appreciated. Those who do it should have the book thrown at them.

    Questions That Make You Realise This Is A Battle That Cant Be Won Easily, If At All:

    When is a design ripped ?

    If an element (search form etc..) is found to be good in a site and is used in a third party site (modified or not), is that copyright infringement ?

    Structural elements across the web are very similar – is that classed as copyright theft ?

    An extensive amount of premium WordPress themes look very similar, but are from different designers – are these themes classed under copyright (IPR) theft because they have elements in them that look similar to other designs ?

    Conclusion:

    Webdesigners that are good at what they do should make the best of it. Create a few designs that can be freely downloaded under some form of GNU or Creative Commons licence and with that you help promote your own work and the user wont need to rip your site.

    p.s
    A lot of the article content should seriously be reviewed by a lawyer.

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  43. 67

    The fact is people are always copying other peoples work. We copy others music, videos, articles, code and an other electronic media illegally. Even the Big giants copy each others technology and design. Since the iPhone came out i cant tell you how much other devices i have seen just like it. We as human beings were even designed to copy other peoples behaviours, personality and style. We are all guilty of copying one way or another.

    The solution is, rather than protect it, share it and those that value your work will donate to support your cause. A good example is smashingmagzine. I buy their book to support because of the wealth of free knowledge i get on a daily basis that helps make me a better designer.

    1
  44. 68

    Anomalous Thought

    December 18, 2009 5:26 pm

    For everyone talking about the, “I am not a lawyer.” phrase, you just simply don’t advise someone, instead just talk about it or what not and don’t offer advice. The only thing a person can’t do is offer legal advice. That doesn’t mean you can’t say, “theft” and what not.

    One problem though, is copyright infringement is a civil infringement, which I think is hilarious. A lot of people don’t really understand the difference between civil and criminal litigation, so they assume *all* laws deal in criminal pretty much.

    What does it being civil end up meaning? An individual is probably not going to be arrested or tortured for doing it because it’s not a crime against society, it simply has to do with suing someone, for the most part, for a dollar amount. If an individual can’t pin a proper dollar amount loss to their civil case, then it will result in being a frivolous law suit, for nominal damages, it’s all a big waste of time, and no one makes any money. On another note most individuals probably wouldn’t be able to establish a lawsuit that isn’t frivolous because a reasonable attorney wouldn’t take a case unless the net loss is big enough to put a nice sum of damages in the bank accounts, otherwise it’s not in an attorney’s interest to take the case, unfortunately I feel many people don’t seem to think that attorney’s actually try to take cases that’s going to proverbially “put food on the table”. Many people also don’t seem to understand that most attorney’s aren’t even supposed to take a frivolous case like that.

    It’s reasonable to say that the general public would be wrong in believing they can just simply run up to an attorney’s desk whenever they have a stupid issue without any real dollar loss and expect something to happen, and DMCA take down notices aren’t really that authoritative, they can be contested in a heart beat, and then a frivolous individual would be up a creek.

    I am against this kind of authoritative action. Individuals shouldn’t steal other people’s work, but work owners should also understand that there’s not this huge moral life and death violation taking place where the heavenly champion of light needs to step in with the utmost retribution.

    0
  45. 69

    Thank you for the great information, prevention is better before it happens

    0
  46. 70

    The only thing a person can’t do is offer legal advice. That doesn’t mean you can’t say, “theft” and what not.

    Sure you can. But it makes you wonder what else the author made up. Next time one of her design is “stolen”, let her cool down with a book on law rather than writing an incorrect blogpost in frustration.

    One problem though, is copyright infringement is a civil infringement, which I think is hilarious. A lot of people don’t really understand the difference between civil and criminal litigation, so they assume *all* laws deal in criminal pretty much.

    Here’s an interesting tidbit of information: many IP laws do have criminal regulations. In The Netherlands, a simple breach of copyright can be punished up to 6 months or a fine. Commercial breach: up to 4 years or fine. I don’t know where you live but have a look in the law, you might be surprised.

    0
  47. 71

    I enter the address of your web rss, only to follow the latest news
    but the reply theft problem, it is not commendable.

    0
  48. 72

    The main question is: How do you prove that it was them who stole the design and not you? By providing PSD files? If they can’t provide PSD files, it doesn’t prove they stole it — files tend to get deleted by mistake, or just lost in case of very old projects — it just adds suspicion, nothing more. And what if you both can’t provide source files?

    And if you lost your source files and they recreated them (it’s fairly easy, you know) in time to present in the court, then you may very well end up being sued yourself.

    0
  49. 73

    Thanks SM..
    Its time to be aware…

    0
  50. 74

    For most cases, this is an issue of education and life-style also we are talking about no-border-land. So the action is illegal but according to what law and according to whom?… So yes unless you have a lot of meny to spend you are helpless, but at least you can save your reputation by announcing that you are the original and they are the cıopycats.. Because in some cases, the copycats can also claim that they are originals…..

    Great article…

    0
  51. 75

    We design a lot of photography websites – our work has been featured on Smashing magazine and numerous CSS galleries, blogs. We have had lots of sites ripped off, we usual find out when they stupidly leave the Google Analytics tracking code in the site. There still must be others though that have gone to the trouble to remove this. Also in the majority of cases it’s been an offshore outfit usually India.

    Imitation is the best form of flattery?

    not 100% sure really.

    0
  52. 76

    I recently discovered that my portfolio website had been ripped by some graphic design company in Italy. It doesn’t look like the site is “officially” in use or ever will be, but still, not cool!

    My site: http://www.tanoshism.com/flash.htm
    The copy: http://www.eurolabsitalia.com/home.htm

    0
  53. 79

    Christian Don Repato

    December 19, 2009 10:34 am

    Its nice SM has posted this very interesting topic!
    This is a nice heads up to those who will be posting up a new web site (like myself). Here is something I hope everyone should consider, well at least for my fellow designers. The designs the we think of and worked for so hard is what represents us. Each of us have our preferences when it comes to graphics, layouts, animations, colors, and so on. And we decide on these very carefully before we post them on the web for everyone to see, it is hard work and originality that makes successful designers where they stand today.

    And if I was one of these successful designers, and I see my work on another site, I would pity him/her or who ever is responsible for taking the action of copying. Just that…pity! We must all understand that he/she can’t come up with unique ideas/designs the way real designers do it. Well designers want to be known for their work and are expected to produce more of that designs, thats why every designer has a unique style they stick to.

    Let the design or work do the talking for you, let it say “I am made by designer X!” A confident designer can never be outdone by a copier. When a copier is hired by a client because he/she showed awesome designs by you and other designers, I’d bet my ass that he will not be under that client for long, WHY? because he is a fraud and it will eventually show in his work (when it is his turn to design). The client may doubt the ability of the designer(copier)’s work.

    As a designer, you can never be stolen. Our ability to generate stupendous designs is why we are called such. Our imaginations in terms of web media can never be equal to those who copy. So why become MAD and be frustrated to those who are copying? Because its yours? If it is really yours by the time he is copying your masterpiece you’re nearly finishing the next masterpiece. And as expected, the copier anticipates your online portfolio and adds the new one to his/her own fake porftfolio. But actually before you finish your next piece there is already another one playing in your mind.

    If you the designer of a piece then show it by craft, and not by the argument of ‘I am the true designer of this’. Such a waste of time, use it to do more productive work.

    To all the designers of all sorts of media – keep creating inspirational work for the world to see.

    To all aspiring to be designers – be inspired by others work, learn how they do it, find your style and create your own. Love what you do.

    To all copiers – try to appreciate one’s work. Try to create your own piece and find out for yourself how hard it is to come up with an original one!

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  54. 80

    Since we are all using the same photoshop, filters, brushes, actions etc.. I really can’t see where our designs may be considered as original works. I just believe intellectual property its overrated… If some one uses your design, just be happy that at least people find your job good enough to steal it..

    0
  55. 81

    Your Intellectual property is your most valuable asset. The laws of copyright are internationally recognized and can get confusing.

    Myows does all the work for you. You just need to open a free account and upload your work.

    If there’s a copyright dispute, Myows guides you step by step until you solve it. from the Cease and Desist letter and DMCA notice to finding legal help.

    0
    • 82

      The ability to CREATE original intellectual property is whats your most valuable asset….not the actual intellectual property.

      You can steal websites all you want….and showcase them all you want in your portfolio…but in the end, if you cant create work on your own for clients, you will get fired or not get hired.

      I work for a web company, and my boss knows if I create something totally from scratch, or borrow from another website. As long as I create everything myself from scratch, it doesnt matter if I borrowed the “style” of Apple or Nike or some other cutting edge company.

      We even go so far as to let clients know, and ask them, if they want a website simple and clean like Apple’s, or something funky and cutting edge like Nike. There is nothing wrong with that. Most wbesites are similar anyways. Its pretty hard to complain about art being stolen when it all looks the same except for different colors and background. Lets be honest…if you use a header, footer, and a 2 column layout…you arent original.

      0
  56. 83

    There is also a big problem of phising, bad people copying as much of your content, and then linking to images etc so they create a really good copy of your site and then register similar domain names. I get lots of email from banks asking me to verify my details, how long before these bad people give up on banks and go after softer targets

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  57. 84

    well, I also have some problems with stolen design and all funcionalities which comes with my site. someone just had been ripped whole html/css and javascript structure.

    the original one is: http://www.rzmota.com
    and the copy: http://www.tinkon.com

    0
    • 85

      I would take this down now so you are not in danger of slander. For all you know their web designer may be just as educated as you and you don’t know they ripped off anything. Their design looks completely different from you. html/css and java script are scripts which a lot of people know. Second their site is a prime of example of a basic template that tons of people use and yet you claim they got it from you. Stop wasting your time assuming things.

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  58. 86

    “You forget one important differentiation: Whether the people who ripped off your design are trying to profit through the use of the aforementioned or not. If you find your design on a private, non-profit website for instance, using terms like ’stolen’ or even considering to get an attorney seems pretty out of line, to say the least.

    If, on the other hand, they try to actually profit from your hard work in a substantial way, then I agree on taking whatever steps necessary (and you can still view it as a compliment and incentive to improve your skills).”

    I’m gonna call BULLSHIT on that one! – Personally, it dont mean a rats ass, if the guy who poked you in the eye made a million dollars or just like poking eyes for fun –
    They diluting your trademark and corrupting your good name. What would a prospective employer/client think when they see another site that looks like the one you claimed to have done – that you were ripped off, or that you were the thief? why would you leave that opinion to chance??

    Many sites have PRIVATE DOMAIN REGISTRATIONS.. so you wont see any contact information to contact them and have a chat about… However, did you know that the agreement that “Design stealing joe” has with his private registrar MEANS THAT HE HAS TO PAY A FEE IF THEY HAVE TO COMPLY WITH ANY LEGAL DEMANDS FOR HIS IDENTITY OR RECORD SEARCH?? :)

    And many of these “private registrars” will cough up the identity easily on something that looks vaguely like a lawyer demand letter or police request? (WARNING: Be careful of impersonating lawyers or police) :)

    A DMCA Take down request made to the ISP is often VERY successful -NOTE HOWEVER, you have to give your full name and contact information to make the demand, which if even successful, is now in the hands of an anonymous asshole who can harass you and your site. Thats why the RIAA go after downloaders and not the original artists!

    Whenever I had the need to do this, I had a pre-paid legal service handle the paperwork. You dont get much, but they’ll write a firmly worded (and legally sustainable ) letter for you and if you do a lot of business, its kinda worth paying the $30 a month – or, you could do what I do now and just partner with a legal firm, I do their web work and some other IT related stuff and they are also helpful to me when little legal issues come up.

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  59. 87

    Bottom Line: Release your shit for free.

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  60. 88

    Thanks so much for the information,

    I have the same problem with stolen design with one site. Someone in India just had been ripped the html/css and javascript structure from a portafolio website.

    The original is: http://www.harisvision.com
    The copy: http://tekwoodesign.com

    Totally a copy check this link: http://tekwoodesign.com/contact/index-2.html

    The good thing is I know I can do more good well designed website in the future and he only will continue ripping websites.

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    • 89

      Once again. I have seen sites like this. I hate to say it but to many people think that what they are doing is original when it is not. Really be careful before you accuse someone of stealing. Make sure you have evidence and not just ego thinking that know one else could possibly do something that you can do. Their are a lot of good designers out their. How do you know they are from India? Really think about this. Did you you hire a private investigator. Don’t get me wrong your site is nice but it is not special. It has a header with links (basic) I middle area with a powerful image and into wording. And then the bottom is just your basic product info with learn more links. Nothing special.

      0
  61. 90

    Before calling a lawyer, if you have the necessary qualities or you meet someone who has them you can try defacing them =P.

    0
  62. 91

    The problem is a bit that people have grown accustomed to stealing is OK on the Internet. That is what makes it big.
    Of course it is especially OK to steal from others. For example check the images in photo topics here in the magazine. Hardly one authentic at all or any 100% legal.
    Being stolen from can be frustrating as you have to fight a Tsunami of theft and thus you can only expect the gain something if the new user is not anonymous and is within a country which upholds copyright etc on the Internet. Which is virtually nowhere on the globe.
    Should you manage to get a hold, it likely turns out the new user is in bonus and they are the victim of a chain of events and little is to gain there either.
    Good luck!
    And check your own storage for stolen items before you start pursuing others. I.e. a bit like the thingy in your eye and the one in the eye of others :)

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    • 92

      And check your own storage for stolen items before you start pursuing others.

      This comment is good, as an extensive amount of webdesigners / photographers etc.. use ripped software to create their sites.

      So copyright, IPR and law are all being corrupted before a site even goes online.

      lol, nothings perfect in this world :)

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  63. 93

    As much as I usually like the articles on Smashing Magazine, I read this one and actually think it is not as informative on all sides of the issue as it should be in considering everything that surrounds this.

    Namely, that copyright infringement may not have occurred by someone simply being inspired by your design and then re-creating some of the more prominent features. I am not a lawyer however.

    Now it is undoubtedly true that if someone blatantly rips off your website and copy and pastes the code that it is copyright infringement. But is inspiration / taking what works and then reproducing it slightly differently copying?

    Most designers do not start off with original ideas. They take what has been done before, and they find out how to make it, and they use that to build their base of expertise. I used this approach personally for YEARS before coming up with what I could consider to be truly unique designs, and I never thought I was doing anyone any harm because I was reproducing it myself. But, these were small elements I was reproducing, not entire websites. that is the distinction… however, read this story.

    Once upon a time, there was a prominent website in my niche… and that website was essentially a community site based on a platform that anyone can create a site on, but it had somewhat unique styling. They were also making money off of it. My business partner and I, being in business, thought that we would take what was already working, and make it better.

    So that is what we did. We took the website, we got what was good, and we added features to ours to make it better. The banner, background, and navbar were all different colors/styles however, we had just created similar features.

    The response was an angry accusing letter from the website owner, acting as if we had mal-intent to purposefully harm him. To us, it was just business. That is what business people do. They find what works, they reproduce something that is similar but still different, they patch up the holes, and they make it better.

    When this particular person posted on their website that they thought we had harmed him, lots of people rallied in his defense, almost blindly, without even considering what had really happened.

    I agree that sometimes people really can completely rip off websites and it’s sad when it happens. I just wish that there was more talk here in the comments about the times that a website is not -really- stolen but the designer might still feel like someone “took” their idea.

    Truthfully if that guy in my story would have just come to us and told us his concerns without the blame, we would have been much more receptive to him. But the way he approached us will never be forgotten. It was assuming that we meant to harm him, when the truth is we just wanted to have our own site.

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  64. 94

    How interesting when the shoe is on the other foot. I wonder how many web designers engage in their work of creation while listening to music stolen (or, since Thany insists…illegally “copied”) from other artists…

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  65. 95

    Nice article! Thanks!

    How about a different scenario. Lets say you have a website, where you allow people upload pictures. If a user copied a picture from somebodies else website and put it on your website. Who is responsible then???

    If I put a disclaimer that I am not responsible for any content, does it mean that I’m still responsible for it?

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  66. 96

    article is nice, but to take serious legal action or to hire paid lawyer should not recommended, as most of the cases can solve by contacting the stolen party.

    Anyways, Good Sharing Thank you

    Aamir
    gexton.com

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  67. 97

    Forget the lawyers:
    “Releasing them under a Creative Commons license or other open-source license”
    …gets my vote!

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  68. 98

    Artists in other industries have been dealing with this for a very long time. Fashion, Music, Dance, Film, Fine Art, Footwear, Hairstyles, Photography, Pornography…you name it. The web is a public medium and with it comes the assumption that your art work and your style is out there for everyone to see…and copy. My suggestion….deal with it and look at it as a sign of respect. Reference the design in your blog, move on, and don’t lose any sleep over it.

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  69. 99

    I’m not one to excuse theft of design, but in all fairness I have yet to see *anything* on the web that was so original that I couldn’t find at least one other design that bore an extremely close resemblance to it.

    You also need to be careful about invoking a DMCA takedown notice. It’s all well and good if you’re hitting somebody who knows they’re scamming and decides not to fight. But if you create problems for somebody who isn’t and does, then it might not go too well if you end up in court. Legal swords cut both ways. And there are penalties if a court decides you are engaging in what it deems to be frivolous or purely malicious legal actions.

    Suggestion: Get some legal advice before you request a DMCA takedown.

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  70. 100

    hah…ha..ha.. That’s the thing i want to know…. what are the precautions need to take before coping any design :D – thanks… Happy Coping….

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  71. 101
  72. 102

    I guess, Its impossible to find out whether your design has been stolen or not?

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  73. 103

    I am very happy to know that my webdesigns have been stolen over and over. I just create more. I might not get pay in cash or money, but I do get pay for my web designs. I gained more experiences. The more I design,the better my web sites look. Thanks for making me a better web designer.

    However, I do feel bad for those that have been crying that their webdesigns have been stolen. Remember this, what come around, goes around. Are you sure that YOU did not take any ideas from other people’s web sites.? I don’t believe you if your answer is “NO”

    1
  74. 104

    I think one more alternative that wasn’t mentioned would be to offer to sell them a license. You could look at it in a number of ways, (including blackmail),but if the person already used your design and has their site built, they’d probably rather pay for an overpriced license to avoid legal action. This form of resolution would also be the only one in which the designer actually gains something from the ordeal.

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  75. 105

    I think the web is a place of evolution, what you put up is part of it, personally I’ve had stuffed nicked, I don’t mind, I get ideas from other designers myself, then develop on them, just like a painter gets ideas from other painters, same with music or anything.
    let people nick your stuff, you nick there stuff ! then were all happy..

    1
  76. 106

    Copyright – right to copy? :D

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  77. 107

    How can you even tell if a site was actually ripped off and didn’t just happen to look the same? If you think about it, 90% of all websites of the same type have the same layout. Buisnesses most all use blank sides, top navigation bar, then all content down the middle. Comics tend to use a side bar, top banner, comic in the center, comments on bottom.

    I work on a small website of my own, and personally I find that people tend to tell me that my site looks thrown together and unprofessional because it differs from the layout of ‘normal’ sites.

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  78. 108

    Such a great post, I’ve had people swipe my designe and the first email usually does the trick, but great tips on following up when they don’t comply!

    Nicholas Klein
    “The Master of Rapid Residual Recruiting”

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  79. 109

    Well we did this when someone stole our design – http://www.bestbeforestore.co.nz/

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  80. 110

    Yeah you’re correct… But most of the designer’s thinking we can do more compare than other designs. so it couldn’t same design and code… right? “Most of designer’s”

    Thanks for post…

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  81. 111

    Here is a real world examole where paleohacks.com copied stackoverflow.com

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  82. 112

    I found a good example of copying. Smashing would be interested in it :)

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  83. 113

    Having my pictures copied, to me feels like they were stolen. I worked on them and I did not give the multitude of people who copy them for their own websites permission to do that. I have sold two thumbnails after harassing the thieves to pay me a pittance. Yeah I got my ideas through my eyes, until I came up with my own style. Do I have to die before any of my work bears fruition via the Internet?

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  84. 114

    THIS IS GOOD

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  85. 115

    I hate it when people say they’re going to buy a domain name from you and then they walk away from the sale. Breaching deadbeats…

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  86. 116

    i know this is alot to ask but i’m a belgian designing for a client in florida , but if someone would take my html-code and run , what can i do to prevent that code-wise

    kinde regards

    yves joseph martens (belgium)

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  87. 118

    One thing this article forgot is the open source licenses. For instance WordPress. The license for WordPress requires that anything you make for it is also open source. Yes you can charge for it, but if someone gets the source code / files for it they can do whatever they want with it, including redistributing it.

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  88. 119

    First of all, Thank you for these wonderful tips.
    But, How can we know that Someone has copied my website and is up and running?

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  89. 120

    Nancy Hastings-Trew

    January 17, 2014 9:10 pm

    What do you do in the case where the design itself isn’t used on another site, but a client hires a new company to maintain the website you designed and THEY lay credit to your design by removing your credit, link and copyright and adding a credit to themselves, without significantly changing anything about your design?

    This has just happened to me – seems there may be a couple of gray areas here as ownership of the site hasn’t changed. I’ve asked the new company to either restore my credit or remove theirs and display NO credit at all. Have heard nothing yet.

    All I can hope for now is that they have as much trouble getting paid by this client as I have had…

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  90. 121

    Stupid comment. You’re retarded.

    -2

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