Pirates Ahoy! | July 1, 2004

I quite like Pirated Sites and have always wanted to submit something to it. Both this blog and my ill fated Zen Garden design have been copied to death, yet I've always resisted the urge to submit them. Most of the time a polite email to the offender will suffice and In the end, they are just little personal sites.


A few days ago, the incredibly talented Johan pointed me to this blatant rip of his excellent WSA design. Repeated emails to both the site owner and (cough) designer have been to no avail, so I asked Johan if he minded me submitting it to Pirated Sites. A couple of days later and we're in.

No doubt this blatant piracy will make you furious, so please feel free to stamp your feet, bang the table and grind your teeth in anger. If you wanted you could even let them know how you feel by the magic of email.

You do have to be careful when submitting a site though. For instance, I really like the Wildly Sophisticated site, which is why I gave it one of the first Web Standards Awards bronze stars. However I do think it's pushing the bounds of reality just a little to suggest this site is anything other than a poor relation. Possibly inspired, but doubtfully pirated.

I'm beginning to think that one very accurate barometer for success is the number of times you appear in Pirated Sites (obviously as the copied, not the copier). 37signals are in there 4 times, k10k are in there 5 times and Netymology a stunning 8 times. I guess they must be doing something right.

Posted at July 1, 2004 7:54 PM


Ryan Brill said on July 1, 2004 8:37 PM

I often disagree with the sites that are added as pirated sites. Sometimes the resemblance is so slight that it’s really a shame that the site gets the bad press that would be caused by being added at Pirated Sites. I’m not saying that this is the case in this instance, just that it seems to be a growing trend (or maybe it’s always been like that?) over at Pirated Sites. It’s really a shame to see that happen.

Ok, enough of that rant. Hope you get your design back - this is one of the cases where it’s a worthy addition to Pirated Sites. It does seem, however, that he at least got rid of your sexy little tabs. ;)

Tomas said on July 1, 2004 9:18 PM

“I really like the Wildly Sophisticated site, which is why I gave it one of the first Web Standards Awards bronze stars. However I do think it’s pushing the bounds of reality just a little to suggest this site is anything other than a poor relation.”

They don’t look the least bit like each other?

Robert Lofthouse said on July 1, 2004 9:25 PM

I agree, they look nothing like each other (referring to the wildly sophisticated site).

The pirated sites web site does damage a lot of people’s reputations, which is a shame for the ones who haven’t done anything wrong.

The WSA design has been blatantly ripped off though.

Andy Budd said on July 1, 2004 10:01 PM

I was trying to say that the “pirate” of the wildly sophisticated site didn’t actually look like the original. Probably being a little too diplomatic though.

Ryan, thanks for pointing out the tabs. Really weird as you’ll see from the screenshot that they were using them a few hours ago. I was kinda expecting they may change the design to make it look different, but that change is so subtle I didn’t even notice it!

Jeremy Keith said on July 1, 2004 10:44 PM

Andy, I think the reason you got no response from the site owner was the fact that they speak a different language.

I’ve written to them in German and they’ve responded. The design will be removed first thing tomorrow.

It’s worth remembering that not everybody speaks (or reads) English.

Robert Lofthouse said on July 1, 2004 10:56 PM

That’s a very good point Jeremy.

I speak Turkish, English as well as some Irish (as all my family are Irish). I’m also trying to learn Russian to open a few more doors for myself.

It’s a shame that a lot of people just expect everyone to know the “universal” language English (This isn’t aimed at you Andy).

Jeremy Keith said on July 1, 2004 11:12 PM

Tá Gaeilge agat, Robert? An-mhaith ar fad!

Níl ach beagánín Gaeilge agam ach teanga álainn is ea é.

Michael Schmidle said on July 1, 2004 11:21 PM

I wrote them in German, too, to express my disrespect of such obvious design piracy (which has nothing to do with inspiration or creative echo etc. in this case) and asked them to apologize to Johan for it.

Good to know that they will change it though.

Geoffrey said on July 1, 2004 11:25 PM

Did that Rogue Chopper site get updated recently? It looks nothing like Wildly Sophisticated. That’s a big stretch.

Stacy said on July 1, 2004 11:44 PM

The WSA design is very good. At least they stole something nice, I suppose. Still a shame :(

Andy Budd said on July 2, 2004 12:23 AM

Cheers Jeremy

Cameron Adams said on July 2, 2004 12:55 AM

That Netymology site doesn’t exactly have a striking look with which to pirate, does it?

Ricardo said on July 2, 2004 5:41 AM

It’s amusing to also consider that “pirated sites” website could eventualy become a loose cannon due to all the templating going online.
You can eventually find a dozen companies using the same template with small modifications and easily call every site after the first one you saw, a rip-off.


JB said on July 2, 2004 8:14 AM

It seems to have worked already :) - I just went to witness the rip myself and got this message:

Dear Visitor,

Our “Webdesigner” should build us a unique Webdesign - but he just copied another Website. I got the hint from our Visitors. We will be online agan in a few hours - with a new Layout.

Jesse said on July 2, 2004 5:04 PM

How many unique designs are there? No matter what you do you are going to have elements of someone else’s design. A lot fo the copied designs are pretty generic. Especially when you start CSS’n your menus.

Blogs are all copies on one ‘design’ :p At least that is what I think.

Andy said on July 2, 2004 11:12 PM

I admit that I, uh, pirated a concept from your site. I spent over a day trying to get my sister’s site to line up correctly in IE without using tables. Your site worked, and it was because of the combinations of div tags in your blog. Even though the number of visitors to my sister’s site can be counted on one foot, I apologize for any damange I have caused. Now if only she’d start using it….

Oliver Schwarz said on July 2, 2004 11:19 PM

The text on the removed page is somewhat funny, since both father and son (I suggest they are father and son) own a company which offers webdesign (beneath some other services). Kind of ironic, I think. I absolutely despise such people, but in the end you just can turn away (or bomb them with mails - as it happened here obviously). It’s like you’ve said, Andy, that the value of a page should maybe be measured by how often it got ‘ripped’ ;)

Tim said on July 3, 2004 4:14 PM

Anyone ever heard of a meme? I agree that the WSA offender was indeed a rip but consider this. I took the loss of my site style sheet as an excuse to redesign in black, white and a red color. the first thing I did was make a background using a technique I picked up a long time ago from a Computer Arts magazine to make a randomised stripy tile in grey. Guess what? I discovered the Wildly Sophisticated site uses a similar background. I could even tell you exactly how they made it. Guess what else? I just happened to choose the same web-safe red as that site. Gee, how could that have happened? I had a whole 3 maybe 4 dark reds to choose from. I’m not a designer, just someone who is interested in design but now, although I have totally done this on my own, I’m reconsidering launching it as-is because I don’t want to be accused of anything by the design community. Bugger it, I’m going to anyway. The design community is getting way too precious about minor similarities which only serves to make complete rips like this one seem less serious than they should be seen as.

Ricardo said on July 3, 2004 6:28 PM

Tim, very well put. I aggree that these things have been pulled way out of proportion from time to time.

Sort of a cronic meme :)

David House said on July 4, 2004 6:22 PM

They’ve changed the design (it’s the 4th July 04 today).

Robert Lofthouse said on July 5, 2004 2:18 AM

Not as impressive, but as least it’s their own design.

Does anybody else find it annoying when your web site jumps due to the scrollbar appears/disappearing? (this only applies to people who use the margin 0 auto/text align center method.

Just noticed Jeremy’s comment aimed at me:

Yeah, I speak/write/read it :P It’s definitely nice to find someone who can speak the language (no matter how little), seems as if there’s not many who can these days. I find that I know more Turkish these days though, due to having a Turkish fiancee, so my Irish is a bit rusty.

I haven’t been to Ireland in quite a long time now, which is a shame. I do plan to go to Galway/Cork around new years though, so it’ll be nice poncing around there again.

I have quite a lot of family in Dublin/Cork (you were brought up in cobh? so not too far from Cork), but also quite a lot in Belfast and the surrounding areas as well.

I wasn’t born in Ireland, but I was taken over there a lot and picked up the language purely for the love of the culture and out of respect really.

Have fun in Ireland!

Sorry for interupting the thread.

Alex Schleifer said on July 5, 2004 11:41 AM

Good to see we’re ahead in the “most copied” race. ;) We’ve actually logged over 80 direct rips and about the same amounts of less obvious ones. Some make an effort (changing the colours, reprogramming the flash ticker, etc…) some are lazy (calling images from our servers, leaving our copyright notice, oops).

It’s tricky to deal with this sort of stuff. One of the pirates actually accused us of copying his site, which was quite entertaining. I’d say 50% of the people who have sites which have been copied are actually unnaware so it comes as a bit of a shock to them. “We met this guy in a forum and he did our site for xxx USD, we don’t know how to contact him now, he’s not answering our e-mails.” Sure, sometimes they make it up but I think that this whole thing is making the freelance webdesign community look terrible. This discussion has remained confined to our little community (more or less) but all it needs now is some big publication to cover it on a slow news day.

Been working on a new site (for months and months and months…) which should hopefully mean the end of the copycat bonanza we’ve been experiencing. After that, I hope we don’t start missing all the attention. :)

Travis Cooper said on July 5, 2004 12:07 PM

I was just wondering where is the line between inspiration and copyright violation? Who is to say who copied who and when? By accepting submissions from people who post sights that have been “ripped-off” does pirated-sites.com become a clearing-house and authority by precedence as to originality of work?

Don’t think I am just out to flame pirated-sights. I think that pirated-sites.com can do a real service for pointing out people who are just obviously ripping off stuff? An example being the top spotlight sight right now with the english trunk show company. It looks pretty obious that they copied the border elements. Or the example of academicDB.com vs. W3C Remix comes to mind. (http://www.pirated-sites.com/archive/?archive=academicdb)

I am not trying to be hard nosed here, but I am just wondering how do they know who copied who. Who is to say that a larger company or “prestigous” designer has never gained “inspiration” from a little guy’s work and implemented it better?

If you have actual graphic and/or code elements that have been clearly ripped off then I can see you have a case. But what if your site used an element that was commonly available and you used it? Also who has the monopoly on site layout structure?

In a world of information and digital way finding who has dibbs on what? Does Ford have a blanket copyright on where the speedometer and RPM gauges sit in a dashboard? Can Mini file suit against Toyota/Scion for placing the speedometer to the right field of view of the driver as opposed to the driver’s center?

Lets take the “copycat” example of londowntown.com and estockton.com. Although I am at a loss as to where I have seen them, I know I have seen londowntown.com’s little arrow boxes before in other places, besides the fact they bare a resemblance to the “pillow embossed” close button on windows XP.

Granted estockton does have a number of striking similarities, londontown does not have the monopoly or patent on city landmark composites or sidebar navingation or multicolumn layout. Nor do they have the exclusive rights to photos masked by a continuous curve as in the homepages.

Although the colors are just a little too close for my comfort, I am not sure if I would classify the site as an outright Pirated site. Maybe some unoriginal tendencies, but from a second glance not a total pirate job from what I see.

However all things being equal and based on “pirated site criteria” Londontown could be guilty of unoriginality right along with estockton. The top left vertical navigation bar on londontown.com can be seen as a “pirated rip-off” of AT&T Wireless’ new mMode navigation buttons. Perhaps a new submission of londowntown.com vs IDEO/AT&T Wireless should be submitted. See it for yourself here at http://ideo.com/portfolio/re.asp?x=86183

With the slight exception of the arrows it looks pretty obvious to me! But who’s to say some engineer at IDEO didn’t get the idea from londtown while he/she was looking up some vacation stuff? Rest assured though I have no intention of submitting this.

I will use myself as an example. I was deeply inspired by the four-square layout of leicacamera.com, in fact so much so that I am developing my site in web standards using the a checked navigation and layout format. Leica did not choose a straight across the top or left/right vertical nav bar but for menu all in a checkered pattern.

Leica choose to put its “speedometer” to the left and I think that is where I want mine too. I am also curious if BMW can sue Leica camera because BMW has a blue and white checkered inset in there logo? Can Ford sue GM for GM using a sans-serif font on the instrument labels instead of using times-roman?

I know if I had worked my tail off on something for weeks/months and someone unjustly slandered me on a public site just because of general or even vague similarities to something else, I can assure you I would not stand idly by, lay down and have mud slapped in my face.

You can rest assured I would be having words with that site’s owners and follow up swiftly with a cease and desist order if necessary along with a motion to file suit if no agreement can be made.

What I am really trying to say is we need to take a really good look at how much inspiration is STOLEN inspiration from a common creative subconcsious. We also need to be careful and think twice who we put up online or in public display for judgement and humilation.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my viewpoint. :)

Travis Cooper

Erin said on July 5, 2004 9:50 PM

I’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of having graphics or a design stolen before. But what can you really do?

The web, for the most part, is open source in terms of coding and generic design methods (i.e. three column layouts). And both these areas eventually present limitations to what can be done.

There’s a principle in sociology that suggests only a handful of original ideas in which concepts do not overlap. Once the limits of those ideas have been stretched to the limit, the combination of these ideas begins to create hybrid ‘original’ ideas. And eventually those hybrids are combined. It’s natural for people to take ideas and re-work them bit-by-bit. It’s cyclical.

As someone pointed out, there are a lot of sites added to Pirated Sites that don’t really belong there. There are people who blatantly steal code and graphics. These are the people who should be singled out. But people who draw inspiration — even if they’re in large amounts — shouldn’t be punished.

I find Pirated Sites elitist in the sense designers can find even the slightest mimic and declare it pirated. People want their work showcased, but only if it’s behind lock and chain. Unfortunately, when you work in any medium accessible by the public — especially in a medium that was intended to be open source (we’ve all got those ‘view source’ menu options in our browser) — you’re taking the risk of having it borrowed or stolen.

If Pirated Sites is serious about their efforts, they should determine a critera in which sites should be judged. Are the graphics and code identical to the original design? Or better yet, what percentage of the site is copied? Does a person who copies 10 percent of a site really deserved to be publicly humiliated in the same fashion as a person who copies 90 percent?

Robert Lofthouse said on July 6, 2004 1:17 AM

Sometimes people do take it a little far. Should these people honestly worry about someone stealing their design? Not really, most of them will never become web professionals.

If you pass off someone else’s work as yours, when it’s for something like a freelance project or for work, then you should be humiliated for all to see - but every day people taking a design and making the content their own, because they haven’t got the talent to build it themselves? The shouldn’t be humiliated, especially if they only take 10 - 30% of the design.

Everything is copied. Two column layouts, the way you write your css, square layouts, drop shadows, worn looks - it all comes from someone else’s design/idea that you have made your own.

Making it your own is what counts, ripping something 100% if you’re a web professional is just stupid.

If you look hard enough around the web, you’ll find something that looks similar to one of your web sites. It’s the same in real life, if you look around hard enough, you’ll find someone that looks similar to you, it doesn’t mean they’re you though.

Travis Cooper said on July 6, 2004 3:08 AM

I am glad that there are people out there that see it the way I do. I had a guy one time just totally rip off some of my composite images. I complained, he removed them and all was well.

He was just a little guy who was an out-of-work logger trying to become a web designer. In fact I even made him some navigation banner comps just so everyone felt okay about the misunderstanding.

From time to time I give little lessons/tutorials at local user groups. I had at least three or four come by my office to see me and eager to show me just how much like my lesson pieces their own layouts and graphics came out. Of those, one of them caught on to doing it her own way and is really starting to take off and maybe even do it professionally some day. It really pleases me to see this and confirms that I can attract a lot of bees by just putting out a little bit of honey. It is taking care of those little bees that one day gives you a very powerful hive.

But I cannot say I would be as easy going with a big yuppie marketing agency/design-snob shop doing the same thing while sipping the Starbucks and gnawing on Krispy Kremes. I know I am hitting a hard sterotype line here, but my experience with this pretentious scum has not been positive.

I still think pirated-sites is sort of a cool idea, but once again I would never just lay down and take it, and I am sure at some point someone is going to get mad and take issue with them.

Brian G said on July 7, 2004 8:55 PM

I don’t know about this, sometimes a “pirate site” is just a happy co-incidence.

For example, I had this brilliant idea about two months ago for a new redesign of one of my sites. I was going to do a three column layout, centered, with the business stuff on the left, branding/nav in the center, and blog stuff on the right.

So what does Douglas Bowman do? He re-designs his damn site with almost the exact three column layout I was going to do (which I hadn’t released anywhere on the web). Beat me by two days…my site was ready to go, I was just filling in some copy on some new pages. Now I’m staring at a beautifully marked up document with a style that needs to be revamped for fear I get accused of being a pirate.

Stupid stupid Douglas Bowman. If I didn’t love his stuff so, I’d have to hate him.

Tim said on July 7, 2004 9:22 PM

Damn you Douglas Bowman! Damn you to hell!