Steps to Take to Protect Your Web Design Work Once You Publish

Enforcing your IP online isn’t easy, but here are some helpful tips to help you protect your web design work once it’s published.

Protect Your Web Design Work

Web designers today find themselves in a quagmire: on the one hand, it is admirable and desirable to publish your web design work, not only to let potential clients know what you’re capable of, but also as part of completing services to clients (after all, you can’t create a website and never publish it on the web, can you?) On the other hand, displaying your work opens you up to theft of your intellectual property and hard work. Other people can take part or all of your work and use it for personal gain without making proper attribution to the source.


The Catch 22: Drawing Inspiration versus Stealing

Has someone ever told you that your work inspired them, when you know full well they just copied/stole it? The line between drawing inspiration and stealing is thin and getting thinner. Inspiration can drive a designer, after viewing your work, to create a completely unique piece. Sometimes, the designer may borrow some of your elements and change them slightly to create a different graphic and call that inspiration because their new piece isn’t exactly the same as yours.

This form of ‘inspiration’ is especially common when talking about web design work. Web designers that don’t have the skill set to create a fully custom job, and so they swipe various elements from various existing designs, knowing their clients will probably be none the wiser.

So, how do you, as a web designer or member of a successful web design firm, keep track of and prevent such incidents?

… paved with good intentions

The majority of people that re-post graphics are actually not aware that they’re infringing on your IP rights. They just think that this is the internet and images and graphics are free for all. Time and again you’ll find many people, even high-profile bloggers with high-performing sites, lifting images from random Google searches and using them within their content without attribution.

Other times, people will knowingly lift designs, images and graphics whose copyright information hasn’t been stated. They don’t know that graphics are considered copyrighted from the time of publishing, whether or not there’s an outright statement detailing this.

It can be frustrating and discouraging for you as a web designer to put so much effort into creating something unique only to have someone else publish it without acknowledging your contribution. For you, the designs are a part of your brand, and they must be respected as such, not to mention that this theft contravenes the law directly.

But then, what can you do once you find such a culprit?

Fighting copyright battles can become very messy. Sometimes, however, making simple contact with the violator can help quash a brewing battle, particularly if they were unaware of the infringement. In more serious cases, young and budding designers let things slide because they lack the resources and support required to fight it out.


How to protect your design work online

Unless you have a budget like, you probably don’t have a team of legal experts combing the internet to ensure your web design work isn’t being stolen and inappropriately used. Most designers are freelancers can’t afford this luxury, and so they must find other ways to protect their work by preventing that theft in the first place.

While these methods aren’t necessarily 100 percent useful in deterring theft, they can help to drastically reduce such incidents. They include:

  1. Copyright disclaimers

You should post a copyright notice or simple ‘All rights reserved’ on an easily-seen portion of your website. This way, visitors can see it along with the statement describing that theft of your designs is prohibited by law. It may not stop them, but it will let them know they’re doing something wrong according to copyright laws, and it may scare some from proceeding with the action. Think of it like having an alarm sign in front of your house, even if you don’t have the system installed. The threat of getting caught can deter a burglar from coming in.

  1. Watermarks

Watermarks are excellent deterrents for people trying to steal your images online. Of course, there’s the problem of changing how your design appears by adding a watermark to the back, which can affect the quality of your image or graphic. What some designers opt to do is to include the website logo and a small signature in one corner of the design.

  1. Copyscape

Copyscape is a software that is useful for finding content duplication over the web. Many people use this to determine whether they’ve been given unique content (by a service provider), but you can also use it to find out whether somebody else has duplicated any part of your content.

  1. Technical solutions

Another great way to prevent theft is to block the screenscraper apps frequently used to access your website’s source code. Even though it is impossible to block all the screenscraper apps, you can get ASP and PHP code that will help you block out the most commonly used apps. You should also edit your .htaccess file to prevent hot-linking of images on your site. There are thieves that will go so far as to directly link images from your site instead of applying their own bandwidth to upload them.

  1. Licensing

Copyright laws exist to protect your creative work online and prevent copying and distribution without your permission. If someone steals your work and uses it on an ad, they have violated copyright law. This also applies if your copyrighted work is incorporated into a derivative without seeking permission.

Instead of playing cat and mouse with violators of copyright law, you can allow the public to use your work on your own terms through what is known as licensing. Licensing allows you to control how your work is distributed and deters thieves from stealing your work, looking instead for non-licensed work to steal.

There are many categories of licenses, from those which allow free usage provided there’s attribution to those which allow free use for non-commercial purposes only. Before you decide which licensing option to use, you can go through these tips to help you.


Watching your work being incorrectly used can be disheartening when you’ve put so much blood and sweat into creating and sharing something unique, for yourself and for your clients. However, with these tips above, you can reduce the incidence of copyright theft and be freer to share your creative works online.