A couple of months ago, I redesigned my website. I went from a site that consisted of an index page and 3 pages of about/work/contact info to basically one page that contained all of that information. My goals were two-fold. One, I wanted a nice looking portfolio website to showcase my photography and give people an easy way to contact me (which, believe it or not, does happen from time to time). Two, I wanted to have something that I could put in Triple Threat Press’ web design portfolio to show clients that I am capable of not only simple websites but also something that has some bells and whistles.
I worked for months on my site. I started with Zurb’s Foundation as a framework and built off of there, coding the main layout of the pages by hand. For the elements that I couldn’t code, I searched for days to find the perfect plugin and worked even harder to make all of them play nice together. My site would not exist without the people behind Photoset Grid, Snap Point, and Colorbox. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people at Stack Overflow, because without their knowledge, I would have been lost.
I quietly released my website into the world on July 28th with a Facebook post and got some likes and comments about it but not much else.
Fast forward a month, and I got a message from a friend asking, ”what script did you use to build your website?”. I explained to him that I started with Foundation, gave him some pointers, answered some questions and we kind of left it at that. We’ve always had a working relationship where we would bounce ideas off of each other (or maybe, more accurately, told each other what we were planning on doing before we did it and then ignored the others suggestions) so I figured that if he had any questions, he would ask.
Exactly one day after telling me that he was downloading Foundation, I got a couple of Facebook messages followed by a web address…
"so i totally just ended up reverse engineering your website … much easier"
When I opened the website, I was pretty shocked. It was my website with new colors and content. Things that I had worked on for months to get just right were recreated on a different website that was created in one day.
Not only did his website “borrow” visual elements like navigation items separated by a forward slash and a header menu that appears after you scroll past the index page, but after digging deeper, I noticed that my website wasn’t just borrowed. It was stolen. A quick look at his source code revealed links to the Colorbox and Photoset Grid scripts which, while integral to the look and function of my website, play absolutely no part in his.
I responded to his message and told him that I didn’t think “reverse engineered” was the right word. His claims of “taking it completely apart and putting it back together” were received without a response from me.
So, I got my website stolen by a friend who I was trying to help. Why do I care?
First of all, I created this website for me. Yes, I wanted it on my business’ web design portfolio but, first and foremost, this website was to showcase me and my photography work. It represents my style and every design decision was made with specific intent.
Second, his website was created for what I am sure its subjects hope will be a for-profit venture. They are currently raising money via crowd funding websites to support their efforts and are offering supporters a chance to have their name featured on their website as one of the perks. Clearly, having a functioning, good looking, website is important to them.
I should say that while I do not believe that the people who his website is for explicity told the designer to rip off my design, knowing the nature of the relationship between them and the designer, I find it hard to believe that they don’t know. But, just incase, I have blurred out their names and logos in my images above.
Third, web design is (one of) my (many) job(s). I don’t make much money from it but I still consider it a job. It is something I do in exchange for money or other goods and services. Now, I am well aware of the fact that if it is on the internet, it can be stolen. People who take photos, make art, write songs, design websites or do any other kind of creative work face a constant struggle on the internet. How do I get my work in front of people without getting it stolen? We’ve been giving a medium that allows us to get our work in front of potentially hundreds of thousands of people. That medium also facilitates the easy theft of creative work but that doesn’t mean that we should stop making things to put online. It means we need to do a better job of standing up to the people who steal them.
Fourth (and finally), what makes this even worse is that this was all perpetrated by a friend. I try to be helpful, especially to my friends. Do you need photos taken after I’ve just worked an 9 hour shift on a Sunday? I’m there. Do you need a website for your bands new album? I’ll design it. Having trouble finding a very specific and hard to find record? I’ll hunt it down.
If he had come to me and said, “I need a website made”, I would have made him a website. It wouldn’t have been mine exactly but it would have been in my style, it would have been free and it would have been good.
So what am I going to do about it?
Well, you are probably reading it. I know that I could easily get his site taken down. I am friends with a copyright lawyer. He gave me a form letter, told me to fill in the info, give the evidence, and send it to their web host. Rather than deal with a potential lawsuit, the host will just remove the site.
But, I’m not going to do that. It would unjustly punish the hard working people who asked this person to design their web presence and not the person who actually stole mine.
The fact is, this person’s own personal website is not much more than their name and the words “creative person”. Judging by the past couple of weeks, the only creativity I’ve seen is in the new and innovative ways he’s found to alienate people and piss off his friends.
I understand that without a proper comment system, Tumblr isn’t the greatest way to start discussions. So, feel free to send comments through Tumblr’s ask box or use the contact form on my website.
tl;dr - My web design was stolen by a friend and I am pissed about it.