I was recently rummaging through my Google Analytics reports when I noticed some strange page titles for my website. After further investigation using the "hostnames" report I was able to determine the domain the traffic was coming from. I then combined the hostname with the pages report to complete the full URL of the external web page using my Google Analytics tracking code. See below for an example of the report I saw:
I then proceeded to visit that URL only to find out somebody had borrowed/used/stolen/was inspired by by my nealgrosskopf.com design. I then went to the root of that website to discover that it was actually a web design company that had done it. I've decided not to link to or give out the name of the company because they were actually pretty nice people. I've actually caught people stealing designs of websites I worked on before but it was always some novice using Microsoft Frontpage, not an actual web designer getting paid which was the troubling part of this experience.
My first instinct was to leave a mean message via their contact us form but I noticed a phone number and decided to call it. After all, I've always wanted to personally talk to somebody who stole a design and here was my chance to do so. I ended up talking to a person who wasn't responsible for the stolen design but was very apologetic and understanding which I really appreciated. She asked me if they could proceed with using the design, and I said yes, as long as they changed a few elements in the design because I felt they were too similar as is. She also said they could give me credit for the design since their footer was currently claiming it was designed by them. I agreed that this was probably a good idea on their part.
Rule #1: Delete Out The Google Analytics Tracking Code
My main gripe was that they had stolen my Google Analytics tracking code and were polluting my statistics. Being the crazy stats person I am, I absolutely hate it when my stats get messed up so I asked them to remove my tracking codes. Every time I've busted somebody for stealing a design, it was because they also stole my Google Analytics tracking code. If you every feel like copying some code from a website at least remove the evidence that you did.
Side By Side Comparision
Below is an example of the two designs side by side. You can also click on the image to view it larger. It does appear that they pulled a screen shot of my website into an image editing program and made some modifications to it. The source code was clearly copied and pasted though as I could see the same IDs, classes and HTML comments still.
So What Can You Do If This Happens To You?
My recommendation from past experiences is don't bother emailing or using an online contact form. I've done this several times in the past and most people just ignore you. If you can find a phone number like I was able to, I'd recommend calling and trying to speak with somebody who either worked on it, or who is the team leader of whoever worked on it. On the phone you can have a two way conversation rather than long winded back and forth conversations like email produces. I would also advise not to be a jerk to somebody that stole your design. After all "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". Somebody stealing your design really is a testament to your own web design skills and all of us at one time or another have at least borrowed small elements from other websites.
The problem with my example is it went a bit further than borrowing elements from my web design to outright copying and pasting of the source code as well as the design files. If you catch somebody in this stage you should contact them and at least get them to ask you for your permission.
I've always felt that the web is an open platform, and openness is the central theme behind the internet as a whole. Because of the web's open nature it make borrowing a lot easier than other methods of design. I would much rather have a web where a small few steal the source code/design of others than have a web were you can't even view the source code at all. I have to credit a lot of my own skills to viewing other's source code and learning from it.
If you catch somebody who has stolen your design or source code, try not to get too angry. Also trying contacting them personally as it will probably get you further than if you email them. And remember we're all web designers so take it easy on one another.
Have you every copied a design/source code before or caught somebody that has? Feel free to discuss your experience below: