Is plagiarism a fine line?

For most of our clients, when asked about the design or look of their proposed new website, most times their answer is another already built website online, developed for their competition.

Why do they ask for the look of someone else's website? Why not create one completely new, something unique to them and the business they trying to sell? The main reason is because most people that want a website don't know exactly what they want. They have seen what their competitors have and want to try get instant recognition and a following, trying to capitalise on someone else's ideas.

It this ethical or even legal to do?

The internet (i.e. html and css development) is known as an open source code platform. Legally open source code can be copied and changed to whatever the programmer or developer wants, giving some credit to the original architect. Must times the code will be improved upon.

So is this then plagiarism?

There is no drawn line in the sand that can easily be seen and crossed. There are many websites dedicated to providing free source code to do almost anything, and so not to have to re-invest the wheel developers make use of such code. In the end a design look or widget may catch on, in time many websites could have a similar design and feel, a similar feature of widget. Adding such a feather or widget to one's own or client's website would then be logical.

So is it ethical?

Ethical like time is relative. Good coding practices are to mention the developer of the original source code when using their code, giving them credit for it, for their hard work. Does the public or shopper see this credit? The answer to that is that most times NO. Such credit is hidden in the source code it's self, for other developers to see. A back-link might even be created to assist them with Google ranking.

If I am forced to place a black-link in the code I "by means of code" tell Google to ignore it. No one likes being forced to give praise, it's a goodness of the heart thing.

The principal we developers follow is that we wouldn't want out source code stolen from us without some kind of recognition so we don't do it to others. No client should want their website exactly based on another, and if they do it's up to the designer and developer to gently steer them in their own direction. Just because a design works for one brand or website it doesn't mean it will work for you. They may spend thousands on advertising, which you may not be able to. No two companies are alike, no matter if their service or products seem the same, so why would you want the websites to look the same?

What about building a website from a template?

99% of WordPress websites are based on a template that is free or bought for a client. We ourselves use responsive templates to suggest a style to the client. It's a backbone we start with, and then develop something unique. Then it gets changed into a representation of the client and the service or product that is being sold or marketed. Fonts, colours, images and text all start to take on the client and their needs. In the end the template is only the backbone to an all new website.

In the end there is no such thing as copyright on open source code, just good etiquette means we give credit where credit is due.

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By Warren M. Walker - 15 August 2015

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