A vintage picture of a woman seeing an exact copy of herself in the mirror representing two of the same things.

The Difference Between Plagiarism & Inspiration in Web Design.

Last month, I got hired by a client to review a writer’s blog post. 

And let me tell you, after reading the post, I felt like, “This guy has knocked it out of the park.”

This guy had hit a home run.

But then, I was like, wait a minute, “Let me run this through Grammarly Plagiarism Checker.”

And bam! The post was 75% plagiarized.

This guy had copied different sections from different blog posts on the internet – just as they were.

Last week, I was telling this story to my close friend and Copywriter + SEO Specialist at Redfox Visual, to which she responded, “Yeah! I get it. I know what you mean. One of our clients had their entire web design ripped off by one of their competitors.”

And that’s when it hit me – why don’t I write a post about it?

Throughout this post, I’ll talk about what plagiarism and inspiration mean in web design and the difference between both. 

I’m so excited to dive into the world of web design plagiarism and inspiration with you. 

So, brace yourselves; we’re diving in 3.2.1…

First, Let’s Talk About Plagiarism in Web Design(Or, Should I Say, Web Design Plagiarism)

Imagine waking up one day and receiving a text message from your website developer, “Hey! Go check out {Competitor X} website. They ripped off our website design completely. Their URL is www.competitorx.com.”

If it were me, I’d have immediately visited their site in an angry fury!

The word “plagiarism” has existed for ages. While most people use plagiarism in a textual context, you’ll see that designers and developers have taken it to a whole new level these days.

Wondering what plagiarism in web design is? 

Plagiarism in web design is the unauthorized use of a website’s original design concepts, structure, design elements, and/or the entire design.

Lexi Chavez, the UI/UX Developer at Redfox Visual, says, “Plagiarism in web design would be seeing something you like and then usually taking the code that is on the page or recreating a 1:1 version of it from scratch. Plagiarism makes no attempt to be different, and even if it is from scratch, it feels lazy and uninspired. Copying an entire website also isn’t unheard of, where someone will just swap out the branding. At that point, the website and branding don’t even match, so it may just be confusing for a user.”

Web design plagiarism involves copying original:

  • Source code of website pages
  • Design elements like graphics (not stock images), unique layouts and structures, UI/UX, banners, and logo
  • Trademarked functionalities
  • Administrative structures
  • Website copy

If you’re using a CMS like WordPress or a website builder like Wix and applying a theme, then you can’t copyright the default functional elements. However, you can copyright unique design elements like original graphics and your brand logo (conditions applied). If you have custom-coded a functionality all by yourself, and if it’s original, you can also trademark it. But here’s the thing –

  • You need to mention that your website is protected by copyright law.
  • You can’t copyright a default CMS or WordPress builder template (all rights belong to the owner). And if someone has built a website by only making a few modifications to the default template, you can’t sue them. 
  • You can only copyright original graphics, banners, and other design elements. Suppose you design a banner using Canva, then that doesn’t mean you can’t copyright it. If you design your banner using an original image, then you’ll be the copyright holder. However, if you use stock images from the Canva library, then those are third-party rights. 

Also, I read WordPress Consultant’s Guide to Copyright for Websiteswhere they mentioned –

A WordPress Consultant's Guide to Copyright for Websites

In short, your work needs to be original – from design elements to functionalities. Even if you’re heavily modifying a stock image, you can’t copyright it. Or if you’re modifying an existing functionality, it’s impossible to copyright it. However, if you’re writing your code from scratch, then the copyright law will protect your work. 

But it’s important to note that different countries have different copyright laws. Yes – there are international copyright laws like the Berne Convention – but not all countries have accepted them. 

You can’t use someone else’s original code. It’s considered plagiarism. And you surely can’t use original graphics, logos, and other elements without the permission of the original source.

And while you can’t copy original stuff, you can take them as inspiration. 

Let’s Discuss Inspiration in Web Design

If you’re stealing someone else’s logo, that’s plagiarism, not inspiration. If you’re stealing someone else’s trademarked functionality, again, that’s plagiarism and not inspiration. In today’s world, there’s almost no such thing as a totally new idea. The majority of stuff you see on the internet has been inspired by old ideas. 

Before designing a website, most web designers take the client’s requirements into consideration, after which they conduct their research and take gazillions of design ideas as inspiration. 

Want to have an “Our Work” section on your landing page? Your designer will probably look for examples of “Our Work” sections on different websites for inspiration. But at the same time, he/she needs to ensure that the idea they’re implementing goes well with your brand’s style, color, and the rest of the website. 

Don’t steal different ideas from different websites and stick them all together without modifying them. Remember – you are taking these ideas into consideration to inspire your website design. Inspirations can come from different sources like other websites, nature, art, and also personal experiences. 

Lexi stated, “I would count inspiration as having a couple of examples you really love. But if you want those same sections on your website, it might be best to give them their own flair for your brand. Even if what you took inspiration from was a group of information boxes, you can change their widths, rounded corners and maybe add icons or an image to them to make it more unique. Inspiration starts from examples, and then you should build on top of it to make them your own. I know whenever I have worked with web clients, I like to ask them about websites they like the look of to get inspiration and a ‘feel’ for what they like while also keeping their audience in mind.” 

Loved a website’s “Contact Us” form? And another website’s unique navigation bar? You can use them as inspiration for your own website. When I say inspiration, I’m not saying that you should copy and paste the code. 

No – that’s the last thing you should do. 

Consider them as a starting point. After that, you need to give them your own flair. Make sure they fit well into your website.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we like to call ‘inspiration.’    

What is the Difference Between Web
Design Plagiarism & Inspiration?

Plagiarism is stealing someone else’s work. Whereas, inspiration is using someone’s work as a starting point to drive your own. 

Our Senior UI/UX Developer at Redfox Visual says “Plagiarism creates nothing new, while inspiration will drive creativity forward.”

When it comes to web design, you should not use someone else’s original code, design assets, and trademarked functionalities. That’s plagiarism. Also note that you can’t copyright modified open-source code, design assets, content, etc. Your work needs to be original if you want to copyright it. If you want to copyright your entire website, you should make sure that everything inside it is original work.

On the other hand, inspiration is using someone else’s ideas and concepts to drive your own. You can even take these ideas from the environment or people. But don’t use these ideas and concepts just as-is. Use them as inspirations. 

Whether you take a specific color scheme and font as design inspiration or a design technique on another website as a starting point, you don’t need to be scared. But stealing that color scheme and font, as well as design just as-is, that’s plagiarism (if the work is original). Well, obviously, the things you can be sued for and can’t be in terms of web design plagiarism depend on your country’s laws. But our opinion is to avoid plagiarism at any cost- as it may also impact your brand image, which is the last thing you want. 

Your final design should be original rather than a copy of others. 

At Redfox Visual, we understand how important it is to create unique, high-quality designs that reflect our clients’ values and unique visions. We understand the importance of avoiding design plagiarism and consider design inspiration as a valuable tool. We properly attribute any work used as inspiration and are laser-focused on creating original designs that wow people.  

We’re the #1 web design and development company in Boise catering to local businesses. 

If you’re looking for help, submit our contact form here!

Note – This article is intended to be used for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice. The author and redox visual are not responsible for any errors or omissions in the content of this site and do not accept liability for any actions taken based on the information provided. It is recommended that you seek the advice of a legal professional if you have specific questions or concerns about the information contained in this article.

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