Best Practices for Preventing Design and Code Theft

July 26, 2010 • By

Design and code theft is an ongoing dilemma that we face as designers and or developers; it is something that is expected to happen eventually, as the internet is a worldwide accessed medium by many different types of people.

In fact, the most used medium for theft and fraud is the internet itself as it is the easiest way for such unwanted activates to occur at such a massive level. With that all said, we dive right into six tips to help prevent design and code theft that may otherwise be easier to occur.

Site Specific Illustrations or Graphics

One of the most common design thefts that occur is the theft of illustrations, graphics, or other artwork. Design thieves are not good at creating their own graphics or illustrations; hence, they search the net to find the best to steal. A great way to help reduce this type of theft is to make your illustrations, graphics, and or artwork specific to the website.

For example, let us say you are creating a mascot illustration for a new website design that you have made for a business card production firm. Try to incorporate what the firm offers into the mascot illustration such as a rather muscular man holding a of stack business cards with the firm’s name on the man’s clothing as well as on the cards.

Now, due to the mascot being far too specific to the firm, the thieves will be less inclined to steal it, as it will be rather difficult for them to modify the illustration to apply their own name on it. However, if the mascot did not contain any firm specific notions on it, thieves can easily take it and apply to their own use for their own gain without struggle.

Difficult Gradients and Patterns

Another great way to reduce the amount of theft of your designs or illustrations is to add some gradients and patterns specific to each object. For example, let us say you created an illustration of a battery meter measuring how much battery life is remaining for a mobile device.

Incorporating a pattern from your website design onto this battery illustration makes it absolutely difficult to be undone with modification as a pattern can be very difficult to remove from any object. Therefore, if thieves are still going to attempt to steal and hinder your work for their own gain, at least you have made it quite difficult for them, which cause many of them to fail.

Screenshot and Image Theft

Many of our designs will contain screenshots of the product the site was created for, or if the website is geared towards wildlife, you definitely do not want your images to be used elsewhere without your consent or permission. With that said, using a basic prevention method, you can at least receive credit for your images or screenshots that have been stolen.

Watermarks are a great solution to this method. Sure, they may be a bit of a nuisance, but your images would be protected. I am not talking about watermarks that hide in a corner, but more so, a light watermark spread over the entire image, one that is not obtrusive to the image, but rather visible if one is to focus on the image.

Your watermark can be as simple as being your logo or even plain text mentioning your website. With a watermark like that, thieves become less inclined to taking the image as it can be easily pointed out as an act of theft, however, if they do end up taking your images, at least they will be spreading the word for you about your website via the watermark, and chances are, you will soon enough know about the theft to be able to take care of it.

Legal Notices and Trademarks

Leaving legal notices on your website about content theft can sometimes deter theft; however, if your illustrations or other works are very valuable to you, getting your items trademarked is the way to go. By trademarking your mascot or logo, you are reserving the rights to your creations and can be defended to the fullest extent of law.

When design thieves know your illustrations or other objects are trademarked, they will less inclined to utilize the trademarked items to prevent any legal issues in the future.

PHP Code Theft Prevention Methods

There are a couple of methods that can be utilized to help prevent PHP code theft when distributing or providing your scripts to specific groups or the general public.

Encrypting or Encoding

One of the most popular methods to prevent code theft is utilizing PHP code encryption systems. These encryption systems are external libraries that must be installed on any server the script will be utilized on in order to properly function. What they do is obstruct the code into a string of random characters that cannot be understandable unless decoded.

Due to the encrypter and decrypter being external libraries to PHP, your code is rather secure when encrypted or encoded. However, as mentioned earlier, the only drawback to using such a tool is the requirement of having the encrypter or encoder library on each server the script will be used, but if encrypting your encoding your code is a definite must, the benefits are worthwhile.


Obfuscation is the process to obscure your code to make it difficult to read through. This is a simple method used to make novice code thieves think twice about stealing your code, however, it is readable and can be easily hindered with. Using obfuscation is a good method to transfer code from one user to another over a network to prevent your code from easily being read during a transfer, however, it should not be a permanent solution to code theft.

To obstruct your code easily, there are many tools that will do it for you when you complete a project. This not only saves you time obstructing the code yourself, but it also provides the flexibility to work with understandable code as you are developing or modifying your script.

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