Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.


Posted on 28 May 2007 28 comments

Article illustration for Pirated

UPDATE: Thanks to the abuse report submitted by ‘Delicious’ (see comment below), I’m pleased to announce that the infringing design has been taken down from the site on which it was originally showcased. For reference, please refer to this screengrab on Flickr.

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but imitation is also the highest form of laziness, it’s highly unoriginal, and it’s just plain rude. And while I admit that a small part of me is indeed flattered, a very large part of me is still trying to scrape my jaw up from the floor after seeing this shameless rip-off of elliotjaystocks.com.

Since launching this version of my site, I’ve seen the unique visits shoot to roughly 2500 per day, the site’s been showcased on a number of different sites all over the web, it’s been featured in some very prestigious places, and I’ve received more offers of work than I could ever hope to accept. For all of this, I’m extremely grateful, humbled, and flattered; but the downside of all this exposure means the design is open to plagiarism by the less original and dishonest designers among out there. And now it’s happened.

Luckily, I’m not alone. There’s a lot of interesting reading from other designers who’ve experienced the same problem, and Shaun Inman in particular had quite a few: link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4, link 5, link 6. The guys at Pirated Sites have set up a Flickr account for people to upload screengrabs of stolen designs, and I’ve done just that, as well as posting this image to my own Flickr account.

Eric Meyer has publicly urged Flickr users to tag such images as ‘piratedsites’, and says that although “the original site may be gone, […] the idea can absolutely be reborn using the social tools we already have.”

So all hands on deck, me hearties – I need your help, and the comments are open! Firstly, it’d be great if someone could accurately translate some of the stuff on this page. Secondly, what steps do you think I should take? ‘Thacker’ made some interesting suggestions on Eric’s post, but it’d be good to get some further thoughts on this one.

Before I go, I just want to thank the ‘Dikamilo’, whose comment on this page (I assume he was pointing out the similarity between the design and my site) contained the referrer link was that turned me on to the rip-off. Never underestimate the power of Mint, guys.


  1. Sean Kennedy

    Sean Kennedy

    28 May 2007 @ 08:07PM #

    From a legal standpoint, you do actually have a leg to stand on. However, since the site is based in polish you’d have to go to the European courts which although would be very, VERY expensive and take probably 5 years, you would actually win.

    If you’re so inclined I would recommend hiring a barrister or a solicitor to write a few “persuasive” letters to the site’s owners and initiate bluff game. If successful the offending parties will be scared and remove the site.

    If you go for this option you need to make sure that that the solicitor you choose is one that deals mainly with intellectual rights. Many will say they do and then bang on with lots of terminology you don’t understand and then charge you a fortune for nothing.

    Unfortunately, our Polish brothers aren’t too concerned with copyright infringement so it may just be a lost cause. You could try contacting them but you’ll need to drop the ’Elliot-nice-guy" attitude and adopt a more stern approach.

    The other thing you may try is the “dirty” approach. You’ve already stated (and I’m not going to argue) that since designing this site you’ve received a lot of attention from the web standards world and people seem to respect your work – resulting in your site receiving shit loads of traffic – which is great! Therefore you could use your influence to essentially point out what a bunch of thieves they are. Make this blog post a sticky and add the offenders site’s name – along with the words “pirates” “thieves” and “tactless, chutney-bottomed sausage jockeys” – in your meta tags.

    There is one more thing to point out. Their site doesn’t really seem to be about anything in particular, hardly in competition with you from a content perspective and there isn’t really any “business” type potential risk. Sure this site is part of your portfolio but you seem to be doing alright. Hell, if Andy Clarke notices you then you’re reputation as a good designer/coder is hardly at risk so you could just do nothing. Having said that, if it where me I’d certainly want to do something. I noticed that they’re advertising a Half-Life 2 cyber-cafe and I’ll bet my left bollock that it ain’t legitimate so perhaps you could try grassing them up to the nice chaps at Valve Software. Obviously you’d have to covertly acquire some evidence of this. A thorough investigation into what they actually do could prove useful in finding every conceivable way of pissing them off before resorting to the “proper” legal solutions that I previously mentioned.

    In any case, I wish you all the best and I hope you get the bastards. As always I offer any assistance you may require.

  2. Sean Kennedy

    Sean Kennedy

    28 May 2007 @ 08:10PM #

    Oh Elliot, one more thing. Well more of a suggestion really

    I think that the “add your comment” button should be more “button-like” if you know what I mean. It might be me being a retard but it took me about 3 seconds to figure out how to submit that last post. Currently it kind of looks like an instruction rather than an inviting “click me” kind of thing!

  3. thacker


    28 May 2007 @ 08:40PM #


    First thing for clarification, I am not an intellectual property law attorney.

    With that out of the way, “design” is not something that can be copyrighted, Design Patents aside. The underlying code of the design does qualify for copyright protection. For example, the CSS and the HTML.

    For a “pirated” design, has the site in question simply copied design elements using their own HTML, CSS, whatever to create the design or has the site included exact copies of the underlying code that was/were/are used to create the design?

    It is always advisable to include a copyright notice within all underlying code.

    If a “pirated” design has not used copyrighted code in its use to create the design, it will not be considered copyright infringement. The fall back is then on unfair business practices, etc and whether or not, in this case since it is a foreign Web site, such things are covered by treaty.

    From that point, costs and time must be considered along with the determination of the value to you on whether or not to pursue legal action.

    If something is that valuable, the rule may be to simply not publish it on the Internet. Another option may be that if a design is unique and of strategic importance to your business, exploration of the possibility of a Design Patent may be in order. This method may be of value to a unique API that is developed combined with its GUI.

    Bottom line, in most design “pirate” issues, it is more ego and pride involved than anything. That sentiment is highly understandable. In all probability, your demographic of your targeted audience will never run across the “pirated” design.

    There are many important things that go into and create a truly valued Internet Communication vehicle than just design. Maybe view that as the strategic objective and purpose of any Web site that you create.

  4. thacker


    28 May 2007 @ 08:57PM #


    I just noticed that you are based in England, whether or not my comments are applicable to English law, I have no idea. My experience is based solely on Title 17 of the United States Code.

    I apologize for any confusion.

    Thank you very much.

  5. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    29 May 2007 @ 01:11PM #

    Thanks for your comments and suggestions, guys. I’m not thinking of taking legal action or anything like that; it seems a little drastic, and as both of you point out, it’s unlikely they’ll be any business competition – as it is, it looks like this is more of a design idea rather than an actual functioning site.

    Unfortunately, the web as a medium is open to this kind of exploitation by its very nature. What really interests me, Thacker, is the point you raised about ‘copyrighted code’. Although some code segments are more ‘unique’ than others (PHP applications, Javascript libraries, etc.), I would suggest that general XHTML / CSS code would be near impossible (unnecessary, in fact) to protect, because certain ways of doing things (like marking up navigation using a <ul> and uniqely-ID’d <li>s containing <a> tags, for instance) is a standard and recommended practice, and thus there’s not really a question of ‘authorship’ over that code. Design, however, is a different ball game – it’s usually very obvious to spot a design (as in this case) which has deliberately lifted certain visual elements to the point of being a rip-off.

    I admit, though, that it’s a difficult argument. Taken to its logical conclusion, one could suggest that having navigation at the top of the page or a logo on the left is actually an infringement upon the design that originally came up with those ideas.

    Is my website’s design original? No – it’s an amalgamation of various ideas that have been formed by the multitude of influences I’ve been exposed to over the years. Is anything original? In the true sense of the word, no, because everything is evolutional. The interesting bit is where we choose to draw the lines.

  6. Delicious


    29 May 2007 @ 03:06PM #

    Hi Elliot! I’m from Polnad and i can translate what he said for you (sorry for my english)
    dikamilo pointed that layout presented by stefan on digiart.pl is looking too similiar to your site.
    stefan’s reaction was: "the prior was not originality but visual attractivity and quick realization.
    i added my comment as “appetit” where i pointed that “author” has no creativity and no skills, he don’t respect other people work and steals their ideas.

    i also sent abuse massage to administrators.

  7. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    29 May 2007 @ 03:41PM #

    Thank you, Delicious – I think this is what needed to be done. I really appreciate you taking the time to do that.

  8. thacker


    29 May 2007 @ 06:26PM #


    Your question of the ability to copyright code, I am going to use the Meyer CSS Reset as an example.

    Eric Meyer could have copyrighted that entire style sheet. Now, if I as a designer, start off using that style sheet as a basis, along with other published resets, and make modifications to it to accommodate my individual coding style or to maintain those browser defaults that I wish to use, the style sheet may have changed sufficiently to allow me to copyright my own reset work-product and mount a successful legal attack to defend the same.

    Understand, too, that issuance of a copyright does not preclude nor guarantee that the copyright is 100% defensible. The same is true in anything.

    Whether or not within any style sheet that you create the use of various tags, which have become standardized, does not preclude copyright protection no more so than the punctuation that is being used within this post.

    As the copyright holder, I could not successfully argue that a segment of my style sheet precludes its use, because they are standards, by anyone else no more than I could shut down anyone who has used the same DTD that I used within a copyrighted HTML code page. I can, however, shut down anyone who has used an exact duplicate of my copyright style sheet depending upon the style sheets complexity and whether or not I have copyrighted the same.

    Similar issues arise for the use of the word, Goggle. Goggle has that trademarked. I cannot successfully argue that since the word Goggle has become “standardized” as a verb because of the service’s popularity that it allows me to use the word “google me” as a domain name, for example.

    Design is in some regards is the same and it is different. Design of a Web page as a whole cannot be copyrighted. Certain design elements can be copyrighted. Your background image and logo, possibly the entire header and its graphic could be copyrighted. Portions of a design could also be trademarked or service-marked. Again the portion of your header that surrounds your logo could be service-marked or trademarked. Again, the code that is used to create overall design can be copyrighted.

    Design can qualify for design patents, however. A good example is the use of the floating elements/menus within Adobe applications. Macromedia incorporated those within their applications and lost the patent infringement initiated by Adobe.

    Overall design is a legal “look and feel” issue not a copyright issue. “Look and feel” can be covered by design patents and unfair competition.

    Intellectual Property law is a complex area. Developers/designers interpretation, as a whole, is pretty misunderstood.

    Designers/developers should seriously consider consulting an intellectual property attorney to gain a much better understanding of how and when their Web content can be better protected and to what extent any given case starts to impede upon a designer/developer’s intellectual property rights.

    Caution needs to be used before making any declaration that another design is a “pirated” design.

  9. thacker


    29 May 2007 @ 07:17PM #


    An additional point that I think should be addressed, placing a copyright notice within all CSS and HTML/XHTML serves the purpose of establishing copyright and more importantly, “intent”.

    The same should be done within any external JavaScript files. Images that avail themselves to copyright should be labeled within the EXIF properties of the image. Those same images should be digitally watermarked using a Digimarc algorithm. Even placing a copyright text file within the root directory of the production server is prudent. A competent copyright notice and TOU is also of significant value.

    Again, I am not an attorney. Please consult a competent Intellectual Property law firm.

    Thank you very much.

  10. Grant


    30 May 2007 @ 04:03AM #

    I’m a little more concerned about their somewhat IE7 logo – though that might just be my Australian wit.


  11. Kyle Meyer

    Kyle Meyer

    03 June 2007 @ 09:12PM #

    I’m quite sorry to hear this Elliot, though your post has been of great help to me. I’m in a similar situation myself, I’m unsure of how to get them added to the piratedsite’s flickr account as their forum seems to be down.

    You can view the screenshots at my flickr account here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8061146@N06/sets/72157600304147007/

    I’m more than a little bitter since “his” design was featured in the last smashingmagazine.com site feature that yours was a part of (congrats!).

    Best of luck in remedying the situation!

  12. Erika


    04 June 2007 @ 11:34PM #

    Wow. That is amazingly blatent and just plain mean, man. You shouldn’t take it to heart. As you stated, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

    That’s why I am stealing all of your designs as we speak, muwahaha!

  13. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    06 June 2007 @ 12:15AM #

    Thanks for your comments, everbody – I’m pleased people feel so strongly about this!

    @ Thacker: Thanks for taking the time to go into so much detail – I really appreciate that, and you obviously have a passion for the subject. One thing I should mention, though: I do have a copyright notice: at the bottom of the site and viewable by all, and in the XHTML source. But hey, it doesn’t really matter – the design was taken down by the site that was hosting it, anyway.

    @ Grant: Yeah, I wonder what Microsoft would’ve had to say if that site design actually ended up becoming a live site…

    @ Kyle: Good to see you on here – I remember reading a comment on that page where someone had pointed out the resemblance to your site. It really sucks. Anyway, it took me a while to figure out how to post to the ‘Pirated Sites’ Flickr account as well, but the username and password are piratedsites / aarrgghh. Get it on there and spread the word!

    @ Erika: Well at least you’re honest. ;)

  14. Jonathan


    08 June 2007 @ 07:04PM #

    shameless! what is the url of that site!

  15. Josh Stodola

    Josh Stodola

    12 June 2007 @ 11:51PM #

    Ahh, cmon guys. This is the world wide web, and most browsers have a “View Source” option. This stuff is gonna happen so quit crying about it. You should allow people to use your design and be honored becuase of it. They are already humiliating themselves and revealing their lack of integrity by creating something similiar. That should be punishment enough, so why should get all bothered becuase of it? If someone stole your idea and turned it into big money, then you might have a reason to whine. Then again, Steve Jobs didn’t.

    Let the crying continue…

  16. Elliot Jay Stocks » Now this is just silly

    Elliot Jay Stocks » Now this is just silly

    15 June 2007 @ 07:30PM #

    […] couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my site’s design being ripped off, and – while the majority of comments were very supportive – some people thought I was being a […]

  17. sam


    19 June 2007 @ 02:56AM #

    Unfortunately you have been ripped off design-wise, but unfortunately none of the posts so far have taken into account that the site that ripped you off is not actually written in css or html, but instead written in actionscript, so therefore from a legal standpoint it diminishes your chances to get a code based conviction depending on whether you actually push to prosecute. Though owing to the fact that the site clearly, has not actually been completed and instead contains lorum text and unscripted links it could be clearly presented that from a “look and feel” based standpoint it has infringed your copyright.

  18. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    19 June 2007 @ 11:11AM #

    @ Sam: It wasn’t an Actionscript thing; it was just a Photoshop-only design, so it was always just going to be about ripped off visuals rather than code (as there was no code). But I’m seriously not bothered enough to prosecute. Anyway, the offending design has been removed from the site now. Thanks for your concern, though. :)

  19. Szynol


    19 June 2007 @ 03:53PM #

    Here you are on-line version:/ http://kafejka.cyber.pl/

  20. Paul Nejman

    Paul Nejman

    19 June 2007 @ 03:56PM #

    In name of Cyber.pl I want to apologize for whole situation. We (as company) have no idea, that our new ‘in progress’ project kafeja.cyber.pl was piratet. Resposible persons will be punished :)
    So big “WE ARE SORRY”. And page is going down now.

    Best Regards
    Paul Nejman

  21. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    19 June 2007 @ 05:46PM #

    @ Szynol: Wow, thanks for posting that – I had no idea it had actually been turned into an actual site!

    @ Paul: No problem – I realise it’s not your fault anyway. Did you manage to get a screenshot before it was taken down? I’d be interested to see if so.

    @ Sam (again): I do apologise – I’m guessing this is where you saw the actual (Flash-authored?) site as opposed to the mockup I was referring to.

  22. Paul Nejman

    Paul Nejman

    19 June 2007 @ 05:58PM #

    Elliot, I don’t understand what do you want to see? Screen of pirated page? It’s on flickr…

  23. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    19 June 2007 @ 06:08PM #

    @ Paul: I just wondered if it was exactly the same as the static design (which, as you say, is on Flickr). I was interested because the site that originally hosted the static design took it down (see above), so he knew he was doing wrong way back before he even built your site… obviously he still decided to go ahead with it anyway!

  24. Paul Nejman

    Paul Nejman

    19 June 2007 @ 06:30PM #

    @Elliot: Yeah, it was the same design…
    I’m just glad, that I saw Your page, before I waste few weeks in flash with this project. I wasted few days, but it could be worst…

  25. TNTPixel [PING]

    TNTPixel [PING]

    09 November 2007 @ 08:52PM #

    […] a little reassuring to know that I am not the only one that has suffered this problem. Elliot has talked about it repeatedly in his blog. Hell, even Greg Storey has suggested ways to steal properly. This stuff happens, but […]

  26. Scott


    14 November 2007 @ 02:33AM #

    Wow…i mean come one people. Get over yourselves. The “design” that was “stolen” is HAARDLY a direct copy. And i think they did a better job with it.

    So they liked how you designed your site and created their own version of it for themselves. It is NOT a direct copy by ANY means. Inspired is the correct word.

    Even still it’s not like we are talking about the Mona Lisa here…it’s just a web design…and they are not direct competition to your business.

    Move on.

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