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Home > Articles > Webmaster resources > Disasters > Three

Recovering from website disasters - Part 3

This article, originally published in 2004, offers tips on solving problems with your website

Introduction | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

My website has been ripped off

cartoon showing a pirate with a site that looks like Google saying it's all his own work

If you think someone's stolen your website design, you're not alone. Tim Murtaugh has created to call attention to the crime and act as a deterrent. "It's a bigger problem than most would think," he says. "As an example, my site receives about 50 design piracy submissions a week. Only about 10% of them cross the line from inspiration to theft, but that's about 260 legit submissions a year. That's just the ones I know about."

If you find that another website has stolen your design, Murtaugh recommends you contact the site's webmaster first. "Nine times out of ten, the issue ends there," Murtaugh says. "If the problem persists, contact a lawyer. A cease and desist letter (or even the threat of one) wakes most people up quite nicely."

Harris says: "You will need to be able to demonstrate the provenance of your design. Do you actually have the copyright as you believe? If the designs are merely similar, is this coincidental? Or is it subconscious copying? Have you used a web design company that has recirculated an old design to other customers?"

Once you've consulted a lawyer and are confident you have a case, Harris recommends negotiation with the other party. "Neither side is likely to instigate litigation rashly since this is a notoriously expensive area," he says.

Your content is also vulnerable. US publisher MetroGuide discovered that websites had stolen its travel content and venue reviews. It argued that the websites were a product of MetroGuide's work and should therefore fall under its control. US courts agreed and have transferred site ownership. The story is documented at

Mark Metz is CEO of MetroGuide. He says: "So many copyright thieves stole the content in its entirety and included our company's 800 number on the stolen page. I doubt many of your readers will have it so easy, but we still caught all of the major infringers that we sued using Google."

Metz advises webmasters to monitor the net regularly. "This is not hard," he says. "Though your stomach might be in for a rough ride. The trick is to find phrases that are truly unique to your site's content and search for them."

If you find an infringing website, you can try contacting it directly or can use legal channels. "A less risky strategy is to mail the main search engines a copy of your copyright notice and a copy of the offending content," Metz says. "Most search engines have a policy where they will remove the infringer's site."

Whatever you do, do something. "Sitting on your hands will mean that you will be slowly squeezed out of business by those who will use your hard work against you," Metz says.

You can warn off potential pirates by posting copyright notices on your site and its content and making it clear what uses are allowed. "A visible declaration of ownership is a mighty deterrent," says Murtaugh.