No, imitation really isn’t the sincerest form of flattery
Being a web design company we’re pretty used to the idea that other companies might take a certain amount of inspiration from our work.
Sometimes this is benign and comes down to a single idea: a layout, a structure, an colour scheme, a behaviour. Other times it can be a bit more like direct copying, something we’ve found happening recently too.
We’d like to take this as a compliment of our design skills, but ultimately it’s a dilution of our branding.
Finding your plagiarists
In the last few years reverse image searching has really ramped up. TinEye were the first big service, but I’ve personally had more luck with Google’s image search. Simply choose an image from your site, click on the camera icon in the search box and paste in the URI. You’ll end up with a page like this one that lists all the sites that use that or similar images. That obviously doesn’t work for general styles and doesn’t seem to work for background images, but if you’ve got distinct illustration / photography it’s a useful technique. (Incidentally, this can also find sites praising your work which is worth knowing about regardless of any potential piracy problem.)
For wholesale style lifting sometimes a passive approach can help. If you’ve got a social presence you can often find that people drop you a line to let you know about sites they’ve seen that lift content and design. It’s worth having an active Twitter account, and also keeping an eye out for mentions of your site. For example, I keep a saved search running for kyan.com on Twitter.
Dealing with your plagiarists
First off, pick your targets. If someone has used your grid or a chunk of HTML then be glad your approach has helped someone. We all at some point looked at a website’s source to see how something was done, and it’s this open nature that has allowed the web to flourish.
If the level of copying is somewhat greater (e.g. chunks of illustration or layouts) then you might want to take things further. It’s nearly always worth sending a friendly email or picking up the phone. It’s quite possible that they had the work done for them by a less-than-scrupulous agency, or they might have found some work they liked via an image search and not realised the copyright situation.
If your initial contact doesn’t get anywhere then there are a few ways to progress. If it’s a blatant copy and the offender is in a country with a history of copyright enforcement then you could try the legal route. Threat of this alone has been enough to change people’s minds in the couple of times we’ve had to go this far, and luckily we’ve never had to actually hire a lawyer. Of course, if the offender is in a country with a history of copying this isn’t likely to work. In this situation a naming and shaming (especially if you’re bigger and consequently have more weight with search engines) will usually get their attention: no-one likes the search results for their company name to start with a blog post about their inability to design for themselves.
Finally, if none of these approaches get you anywhere then there is an alternative: redesign your own site! It’s probably due a revisit, and you know you’ve been putting it off. Just be thankful for the added incentive.Tweet