In defense of common decency – and why stealing will cost you more in the end

One of the reviews for Deborah Griffin, Scottsdale AZ Realtor reads:

HONEST & LOYAL: I found Deborah to be very focused, results-oriented, and a person that demonstrates a great work ethic. She is a highly motivated individual, remarkably intelligent, honest and loyal. I would highly recommend anyone the opportunity to work with her…[emphasis mine]

What if I told you that it appears Deborah Griffin is a common thief, of the worst variety?  One who not only tries to profit from another’s labor, but one who has no problem stealing from people she knows, intimately…

Which is the Original Work

As most of you know, ha media builds custom sites for real estate professionals for a living, among other things.  Everything we design is done for that specific client, one a time.  The clients who hire us want to stand out.  They want their marketing to look and feel like them alone.  That’s what we promise and that’s what we deliver.

One of these clients is an agent in Fountain Hills, AZ, Patti Irwin.  About a year ago we released her brand new site, http://realestatefountainhills.com, a custom responsive design with IDX Broker integration. Here are a few screenshots for the curious:

Two days ago we ran across this site belonging to Deborah Griffin: http://coolscottsdalehomesforsale.com, which, according to Google, was published on March 15th of this year.

Here are a few screenshots of Deborah’s site.

Ms Griffin went so far as to copy not only every tool we used in building Patti’s site (including custom settings for those tools, such as custom fields we used in the WP Reviews plugin), but she blatantly stole every element, down to the price breakdowns of custom search links and their naming conventions, the entirety of the navigation, form, layout, meta titles and descriptions and pretty much everything else she and or her designer could figure out how to steal.  You’d think that if one was trying to steal a website in its entirety, they would not be quite so brazen and, at the very least, would create their own background image. But even here,  the photo of the cactus that our client took was appropriated, albeit lazily, into the background of Deborah Griffin’s website. As if it was so hard to take photos of cactus in Arizona…

Whenever a conversation about stolen designs, images or content takes place, the advice dished out tends to revolve around pursuing legal avenues for getting the stolen content removed.  There is nothing wrong with that, and it is in some cases advisable to send a C&D to the offending party and maybe even file a DMCA with the hosting provider, or sue for monetary compensation.  While in most cases the offending party will indeed comply and remove the stolen work, we don’t believe that to be a sufficient lesson, nor does it do much to protect service providers like us and our clients from future theft.

So with that in mind, we believe that every creative professional has the RIGHT to protect their work from being stolen and that every client who retains the services of a creative professional to design something that will be UNIQUE to them, has the right to protect and defend the assets they had paid for.

We charge a lot of money for what we do for our clients, commensurate with the time and effort we spend on each project precisely because at the end of the day our clients will have something that nobody else has.  What Deborah has done here was not just an insult to Patti, but it is injurious to the survival of businesses like ours.  It dilutes the value of the work that we do.

If anyone reading this finds it tempting to appropriate any of our work for their benefit, we will find out, and we will out you publicly.  If you happen to sell real estate for a living and you choose to steal content, images or design from anyone, you will be branded as a thief, and…

I have yet to meet a consumer who’d want a thief to handle their most important financial transaction or a broker who would knowingly hire one.

I’m sure some of you will tell me that I should have handled this differently.  That I should have maybe started with a phone call to Deborah Griffin or a nice email, followed by a C&D and on and on, all in an attempt to have our stolen work removed from the internet.  I don’t think that would be fair to me, or to my client.  You see, I believe that putting any undue burden on the injured party is insane.  I think that the only person who should feel any discomfort, and hopefully, shame,  should be the guilty party.

Some of you might also try to suggest that maybe Deborah Griffin simply hired a designer to build a website for her and was unaware that the site was pretty much a direct thievery of an existing site that we built for Patti.  I am pretty certain that this will indeed be the defense that Deborah Griffin employs, should she run across this post, but it doesn’t wash for me.  Deborah knows Patti.  They work in the same office, and as recently as a year ago, they were talking about designing their sites and sharing ideas and such.  They were friends.

This makes this incident even more disgusting in my eyes.  And it makes my heart ache for the hurt my client must be feeling.  This isn’t about the money.  It’s about that very basic line of decency that should never be crossed, certainly not by members of the Real Estate profession, the ones who subscribe to a Code of Ethics that is supposed to make consumers trust in their honesty and integrity.  I read the review of Deborah Griffin today that is copied at the beginning of this piece, and the two words: “honesty and loyalty” made me sick to my stomach.

Honesty and loyalty indeed.  Et Tu, Brute

(Note: If you are reading this post days or months after its publication and the offending site content has changed or was removed, know that the offense has happened, and this post simply being an account of said offense, shall remain, no matter what course of action Deborah Griffin takes.)

UPDATE 1, May 1st, 2013: Prompted by the DMCA notice from the hosting provider, Deborah removed the cactus picture.  Sadly, nothing else has been changed on the site, nor has there been an apology to our client.

UPDATE 2, May 2nd, 12:15 a.m.: HostGator suspended Deborah Griffin’s site, after receiving multiple DMCA notices.  We’ll keep an eye on it to see if Deborah realizes the errors of her ways and builds or purchases a website that doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights, or simply chooses to move the site to a different hosting provider.  Thanks for reading, all, and the many comments here and elsewhere on the net.

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45 Responses to In defense of common decency – and why stealing will cost you more in the end
  1. Inna Hardison
    May 13, 2013 | 5:56 pm

    Thomas – what I wouldn't give for an honor system in the real estate space, but alas, we are told that the NAR's COE is sufficient. Too damn bad, really. 🙂

  2. Jon Hardison
    May 3, 2013 | 3:09 pm

    We may Erik. How the heck are you? Hope everything is going well with you. We should touch base…
    Also, the person is Deborah Griffin. Debbie Gibson is someone else. It'll be interesting if we're on page 1 of google for her. LOL!

  3. Erik Hitzelberger
    May 2, 2013 | 2:45 am

    I'm glad to see this post shows up on the first page of Google for Deborah Gibson Scottsdale. Hopefully, it will cause prospective clients to think twice about whether Ms. Gibson is someone to be trusted with their assets. I also hope you are pursuing copyright infringement judgements.

  4. Inna Hardison
    May 2, 2013 | 1:53 am

    Bob Craighead -yes. Mights still end up going that route.

  5. Inna Hardison
    May 2, 2013 | 1:52 am

    Thank you kindly, Loftninja

  6. Bob Craighead
    May 1, 2013 | 11:03 pm

    Copyright laws???

  7. Loftninja
    May 1, 2013 | 9:53 pm

    now this is my type of post! Bravo!

  8. Jon Hardison
    May 1, 2013 | 8:32 pm

    You're very welcome Mark. Your work is amazing! There's a reason she chose your photos, but that end the compliment portion of this comment. 😉 It is such a shame that so many think this sort of thing is okay. I'm just happy that this is being dealt with and that it is out in the open where these things belong. And I'm amazed at how great everyone I called was about this mess. Sorry to be the deliverer of bad news.

  9. Jon Hardison
    May 1, 2013 | 8:24 pm

    Thanx a bunch. You too! Yeah, generally that's our attitude too. But this one? This one was over and above anything I've seen before, and it was so very close to our client. Something had to be done. Let the fluffy of DMCSs begin…

  10. Mark Spomer
    May 1, 2013 | 8:02 pm

    As one of the photographers who Deborah illegally "used" an image from, I appreciate you bringing this to the forefront. I also mentioned in my FB post that it is ABOUT PROTECTING my clients and their hard earned money they've spent paying me to create images for them to help build their business. I for one, know my client would be disgusted to see any images they've licensed from me to use. Thanks Jon for contacting me with this issue, and articulating this so clearly.

  11. Inna Hardison
    May 1, 2013 | 7:33 pm

    Maria Gahan-Broman ->>sorry, stealing someone else's work is not a compliment anymore than stealing one's car, clothes, jewelry or anything else for that matter.

  12. Maria Gahan-Broman
    May 1, 2013 | 7:30 pm

    Not me, but look at it like the greatest compliment…because it is!

  13. Brandi Hammon
    May 1, 2013 | 7:03 pm

    This is awesome. My competition is constantly stealing my sign design, images, ad design, it is so annoying. So I just keep making it better. They totally look like hosers.

  14. Nail Soup Media
    May 1, 2013 | 6:52 pm

    crazy but you don't let it get free rent in your head and you move on. Love your stuff BTW!

  15. Jon Hardison
    May 1, 2013 | 6:46 pm

    Oh for crying out loud! Seriously? Really? REALLY REALL? Unreal! So you owe them a slice of your pie now because they were smart enough to steal from you? Classic!
    I'm so sorry.

  16. Jon Hardison
    May 1, 2013 | 6:42 pm

    Ha ha ha! You want to know something funny Dale? Look at your LinkedIn profile! When we checked up on her, it turns out we're connected via two people. You're one of them! This person is actually connected to you via LinkedIn somehow. LOL!

  17. Dale Chumbley
    May 1, 2013 | 6:38 pm

    I know which Scottsdale agent I wouldn't be using!

  18. Nail Soup Media
    May 1, 2013 | 6:36 pm

    We feel for your perspective however nothing is stealing like when another web company takes your stuff and puts it on their site/material to advertise and says THEY did it! Then calls us months later to ask if we would do them for the clients they get because they couldn't figure out how to do them like we do. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEmGcx6HJyU.

  19. Inna Hardison
    May 1, 2013 | 3:59 pm

    Mitchell – can't say I'm surprised. Sad that this happens so very often, and I've yet to hear one legitimate excuse for this practice. I wonder if it would make a difference if the culprits simply lost their licenses if caught doing something like this. After all, in real estate anyway, these people are tasked with representing their clients' financial interests, and that should presume some degree of honesty in dealing with people, no?

  20. Mitchell Hall
    May 1, 2013 | 5:09 am

    OH my. It just amazes me what people will actually steal. When it happened to me, not quite as bad as stealing an entire website, my thief became very defensive when I called her out. She too had a profile touting her honesty and integrity, HA! My thief stole 10 blog posts word for word, select all copy and pasted but she was so stupid with no knowledge of HTML she didn't cut or change my links that linked to pages on my website or change a thing. Even my personal witty, dry sense of humor was hers too. I think that annoyed me the most stealing my personality. LOL It is almost funny how blatant it was.

  21. Irina Netchaev
    April 30, 2013 | 11:31 pm

    Wow… this is as blatant as it gets. Sad to see that people stoop down so low and think that they can get away with stealing other people’s work.

    • Inna Hardison
      April 30, 2013 | 11:57 pm

      Yeah, it’s beyond blatant. Not sure if this will post, as for some reason only our FB comments seem to work at the moment, so my apologies if this gets buried.

  22. Inna Hardison
    May 1, 2013 | 2:40 am

    Not so sure about justice here, Michael McClure, but maybe, hopefully a bit of a deterrent to thieves everywhere? 🙂

  23. Inna Hardison
    May 1, 2013 | 1:48 am

    This comment was left by @Kevin Frank earlier. We changed the damn commenting plugin, so it got wiped out. Sorry peeps.

    It's amazing to me that no one has commented on this. I find for all the babble that goes on behind the scenes…it's amazing that no one has started a dialogue here. That is my problem with real estate industry and more specifically the so-called "re.net (is that still around?). There is NOT a lot of integrity. I know a lot of people talk about it…but when it comes to rubber meeting the road….I'm in a room (now with you, Inna) all by myself. Inna….Bravo! Bravo for having courage.

    Most people know my reputation is to do something like the above. I'm very passionate about everything I'm interested in.

    I've made good friends and I've alienated others. I have often said that people continue to do "bad" or "wrong" things because they never get called on the carpet on it.

    When I as a little boy if my father said "Kevin, if you do that again I'm going to beat your ass." As a kid you ALWAYS do it again…but in MY case… we got our ass beat. So we learned really quickly.

    I tend not to mesh with wimpy people. They have no flavor or they don't add much to the equation, I find.

    This of course is wrong on all levels. Inna, I applaud your integrity that you have for YOU AND YOUR client.

  24. Michael McClure
    May 1, 2013 | 12:39 am

    Justice, Social Media style. Way to bang the gavel, Inna! 😉

  25. Inna Hardison
    April 30, 2013 | 10:16 pm

    Really weird, but this comment is only appearing in FireFox, and all the other ones we have in Safari and all other browsers. I think FB is screwing with us, but there are other comments on this, Kevin Frank, some even in support of a bit of public humiliation:-)

    So not quite everyone is ball-less, but it would be nice if the ranks of people who stood for something in this space increased some. Thanks man, seriously. Means a ton.

  26. Kevin Frank
    April 30, 2013 | 10:01 pm

    It's amazing to me that no one has commented on this. I find for all the babble that goes on behind the scenes…it's amazing that no one has started a dialogue here. That is my problem with real estate industry and more specifically the so-called "re.net (is that still around?). There is NOT a lot of integrity. I know a lot of people talk about it…but when it comes to rubber meeting the road….I'm in a room (now with you, Inna) all by myself. Inna….Bravo! Bravo for having courage.

    Most people know my reputation is to do something like the above. I'm very passionate about everything I'm interested in.

    I've made good friends and I've alienated others. I have often said that people continue to do "bad" or "wrong" things because they never get called on the carpet on it.

    When I as a little boy if my father said "Kevin, if you do that again I'm going to beat your ass." As a kid you ALWAYS do it again…but in MY case… we got our ass beat. So we learned really quickly.

    I tend not to mesh with wimpy people. They have no flavor or they don't add much to the equation, I find.

    This of course is wrong on all levels. Inna, I applaud your integrity that you have for YOU AND YOUR client.

  27. Inna Hardison
    April 30, 2013 | 4:31 pm

    Miriam – I'm sure Patti will take further action if the need arises. 🙂 Upsetting doesn't do this justice.

  28. Miriam Bernstein
    April 30, 2013 | 4:27 pm

    Several years ago, prior to you doing my site, I had this happen to me and until this happens to you it is hard to understand how very upsetting this is both to you as the designer and to the owner of the site. My theft was a competitor and I can't imagine the pain of having a friend do this. These sites become very personal and our homes on the net and for anyone to invade that space is appalling. Nothing less than a complete take down of the stolen site is acceptable. I also applaud you for this but hope there will be further action to resolve this…

  29. Inna Hardison
    April 30, 2013 | 2:44 pm

    Cindy Jones – we own the copyright on all the creative that we do for our clients, and we extend that copyright to them upon completion.

  30. Cindy Jones
    April 30, 2013 | 2:36 pm

    Just as a question for my education Inna-who owns the "intellectual property" you or the client? I don't think theft of any property whether it's physical or virtual is right and certainly wouldn't let it pass without a fight.

  31. Inna Hardison
    April 30, 2013 | 2:09 pm

    Cindy Jones – it there was even a tiny bit of doubt in our minds that our work was stolen, we wouldn't pursue it at all. Inspiration is one thing – blatant theft is something totally different. I've no patience for the latter, nor do I think it helps people in the long run. Conversations, polite emails and even DMCA notices are always done quietly and as such have no affect on the instances of theft. These things only end up costing the injured party time and money. I just don't think that's fair. There is absolutely zero excuse for doing what we referenced in the post. And it's not my (or my client's) place to teach someone the rules of basic decency or right from wrong.

  32. Lisa Heindel
    April 30, 2013 | 2:08 pm

    Inna, it wasn't web stuff – it was a listing photo. It's gone now.

  33. Cindy Jones
    April 30, 2013 | 2:05 pm

    Ina I have no doubt you know your stuff and your work speaks for itself. I didn't look to see a photoshopped cactus just as I suspect the average consumer would do think it was a different shot. My apologies on not seeing the detail. I would have taken the approach to contact the agent first to discuss the issue and then if they laid it off on a 3rd party go after them. It's just my nature to be a little more cautious on calling out someone in public without first having a serious discussion with them about the repercussions of their actions.

  34. Inna Hardison
    April 30, 2013 | 1:33 pm

    Lisa Heindel ->>now why wouldn't you tell me your stuff was stolen? We'd be on it like, well, yah know…:-)

  35. Inna Hardison
    April 30, 2013 | 1:33 pm

    Cindy Jones – if you enlarge the background images, you'll see that the cactus on Patti Irwin's site has rather distinct holes and markings in it, and in her case actually belongs to the landscape it's in. The person who lifted the site had badly cut out that same cactus from Patti's photo and dropped it into the same location on the shot of Scottsdale. It's almost silly that they'd go through the trouble to imitate to that degree.

    As for the rest of it, we don't use templates, Cindy. Everything we build is entirely from scratch, so our layouts and designs simply don't exist in a way that one can utilize and create a similar look. Every single element on the site we did for our client, down to tag lines, search links, form and every tool and setting was in this case appropriated. I don't even need to look at the back end to know that:-)

  36. Lisa Heindel
    April 30, 2013 | 12:58 pm

    Cindy, I've had so much stuff stolen over the years (particularly photos, but sometimes entire blog posts) that I'm fed up. After the response I got from that bone-headed agent last week, I'm finished being nice. Take inspiration from someone's work, but don't flat out copy/steal it.

  37. Cindy Jones
    April 30, 2013 | 12:40 pm

    I have no doubt that Ina knows the backend of the website she designed and has a way to look under the covers at the new site. But for example when I look at the cactus background I see two different pictures from different locations in the Phoenix area. I'm sure there is a reason for the "outing" and we do need to stand up to make sure our intellectual property is protected but until all the facts are in place it's tough to know if this is the right way to go about dealing with it.

  38. Kris Wales
    April 30, 2013 | 12:21 pm

    Not just "like". LOVE.

  39. Lisa Heindel
    April 30, 2013 | 12:16 pm

    Thank you for having the cojones to do this. I'm sure that every agent that has ever had something stolen from their site, whether it's a photo, a post or any other material, is standing up and applauding. I know I am.

  40. Inna Hardison
    April 30, 2013 | 5:01 am

    Roberta Michelson Murphy – that's because her site is a badly executed replica, and I would guess the culprit is still in the dark about the conversations here and elsewhere or she honestly believes she had the right to do what she did.

  41. Roberta Michelson Murphy
    April 30, 2013 | 3:54 am

    Griffin's site still looks hauntingly similar to http://realestatefountainhills.com.

  42. Susan Milner
    April 30, 2013 | 1:07 am

    Actually Scott I don't even think that is equivalent here. It would be like after the agent did all the work, showed the homes, got the contract accepted and then the other agent got paid off of it….stinky stuff right there…

  43. Jon Hardison
    April 30, 2013 | 1:06 am

    Basically, yeah. But the other point is that there are specific things we did in that site that were based on that research. As close as the two areas are, the stuff we did works in Fountain Hills and NOT in Scottsdale, so essentially she has taken something that is of significantly less value for her than it was for its intended recipient.

    We get calls all the time that start with, "I'd like you to make a site like this one." our answer is always the same. "You sure about that?" and then "No!"

    This is such a bad idea for so many reasons.

  44. Scott Hartis
    April 30, 2013 | 12:36 am

    Boom! Way to throw the Caesar reference in there.

    It's funny you mentioned the part about the cost associated with your services. I was just thinking that before I got down to that paragraph. It is not fair to you or your client, for someone to take the months of work and research you have completed, and transfer it to their website.

    To compare it in real estate terms, it would be like Deborah showing a client for months. Then when that client was ready to buy, they dump her and have Patti write the offer for them.

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