What to Do When You Catch Someone Stealing Your Work

Posted on April 28, 2014 | Updated on February 21, 2024

As a designer, your livelihood depends on being able to produce original content to meet client specifications. In many cases, distinctive works could solidify your reputation. For those reasons, it’s important to act without delay if you notice someone stealing your work and passing it off as if it were their own.

As a starting point, gauge the severity of the problem. That factor will help guide you in responding appropriately.

Contact the Person Who Was Stealing Your Work

Your first course of action when someone is stealing from you should be to get in touch with the offender. Politely ask him or her to either stop using the content, or credit you appropriately. There’s no need to make threats in your initial correspondence. Just say who you are and why you want the work to be taken down. Wait for a response. Ideally, the person will comply..

Apply Pressure Only When Necessary

You may also encounter people who rip off your designs and use them in their portfolios. That’s understandably frustrating.Force yourself to stay calm and level-headed, only resorting to making a threat of further action if a person is unwilling to stop using your content after you’ve made a request for him or her to do so.

Recognize When You Need a Lawyer

If you’re dealing with a case where a design thief is making money from your work, you’ve entered into more serious territory. Once you’ve targeted the culprit and verified the content was definitely stolen, start by sending a cease and desist letter. It’s also a good idea to get legal counsel, because the matter may progress into a court case.

Ask for Pirated Content to Be Taken Down

Digital design files are at risk for being pirated when paid content is freely distributed for download without consent from the creator. Unfortunately, since piracy is a great concern in some non-English speaking countries, it may not be as simple as sending an e-mail—especially if most of the site that contains your work for download is in another language.

In that case, look for a way to contact the website hosting company or flag the content as being used without permission. Those methods may not be the most direct or efficient ways to reclaim your content, but other choices may not work well if a language barrier exists.

Sooner or later, you can almost expect people to steal your work, whether it happens intentionally or not. Also, it may be very hard to catch copycats and prove your idea was original. If your idea is truly innovative, think about getting a patent for it. Otherwise, act quickly and assertively using the above tips. Good luck!

Photo: Unsplash

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About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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