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Copyright Theft -- Internet Highway Robbery

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Columbus, OhioKarri Hill learned the hard way not to trust a competitive web developer when it comes to copyright. She designed a proposal for a potential client and a few months later, saw her design online. Trouble was, she didn't receive any payment for it.

copyright infringement"I designed and programmed a front page into html and sent it to my potential client as a link. It was understood that they would get other proposals. I normally post the design online for my clients to view. I contacted them a few times and about 45 days later I contacted them again but they were still indecisive so I backed off, thinking that I might have been too expensive.

Just out of curiosity (and I do this on a regular basis) I checked their domain to make sure they hadn't taken my design and shopped it around for a better price. Lo and behold, they had a new website with my graphic elements and photographs -- they had stolen them from me!

Not only did they steal from me, but there were two photos on their website that I had sold to another client, who happened to be a direct competitor of theirs, both in the real estate market.

I personally took these photos -- they obviously were not stock images. As well, along the bottom of their website were a series of images of trade affiliations such as realtor logos. They have the right to the images if they are affiliated with those organizations but in the design sample that I sent to them, those images -- which comprised eight logos -- were in the same order and position. They were taken directly from my design sample. Not only were they the exact size and order, each logo still had the numbers attached that I had originally designated.

I soon discovered which website company did this and I actually know these people. I made sure all the evidence was in place, including all my pages and source code and web logs. I can prove, without a doubt, that this other website company went to my design sample page and used it because only this potential client, now their client, had access. Turns out that someone in the realty company gave the web designers the link to my design and the real estate company apparently went onto my website, looked at my portfolio and liked my photos. When the other web company signed a contract, the client forwarded my photos to them.

The other web development company is far cheaper than me and no doubt this is the reason they got the commission. This is how they can be so cheap: they farm out all of their programming to India. There, a programmer is hired for one month at $1,500. The downside is that the client gets a lesser product and the client has to supply all graphics, images, photos etc.

I spend a lot of time on copyrighting -- there's a big difference between writing in text and putting in type. I spend a lot of time editing and choosing words; it is a lengthy process to do it well. Then someone comes along and takes away all my hard work.

All the design samples I sent to this real estate company state that copyright belongs to my company and it stays that way until, or unless, it is paid for. Then I change copyright to the client. There should have been no confusion.

I phoned the real estate company first, the people who gave away my design, and spoke with the owner. "Oh s**t," he said; he knew he was in copyright violation. I then contacted the web design company and asked them to take my photos down. He said he would contact his client for direction. The next day the images were still there. I wouldn't take no for an answer and said I would go after them legally and that would mean taking their entire site down.

I'm sure my design template is now sitting on someone's computer in India. These companies are known to modify templates and for all I know, they can just change my html and a few colors and may have used it a few dozen times by now. Now I can't use my design because I can't tell future clients that it is original.

Unless I get an attorney to take my case on a contingency basis there's not much I can do. I am a sole proprietor and don't have deep pockets so the best I can hope for that the offending material is removed and somebody pays me for the time I spent on this design that by now has been shopped all over the world.

A few weeks ago I sent the real estate guy, the person who gave my design away, a bill for my time working on the design -- not including the time I spent in his office. I'm hoping he has some integrity. I am a single Mom putting two kids through college. I don't expect to get every job I quote on but I don't expect to be stolen from. One of the things I told this guy was that you get what you pay for. I don't profess to know copyright law, but I do know that this has infringed upon my rights. A cheap website is going to cost them a lot more than I was going to charge, especially when they are confronted with a class action lawsuit."

For more information about Karri Hill's services, please visit her [website].

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