Plagiarism has existed in academia and literature since the time man learned to write. However, even though plagiarism has always been prevalent in textual content, many developers take plagiarism to a whole new level and copy entire websites.
Whether this is through copying code or simply mimicking the UI and graphics, it is highly illegal and truly unethical to do so. Developers spend hours building original websites, and merely copying their efforts and hard work is disrespectful.
It is understandable if someone decides to take inspiration from someone's graphics or interface; however, one should always create original web pages and not just blindly copy whatever they like. Even if the entire website is not plagiarized, single web pages which have been copied from other websites are illegal as well.
Are you guilty of web design plagiarism? Let's find out!
Plagiarism in Web Design
Plagiarism has been prevalent on the internet since the time developers started publishing websites. The parallel world of copycat websites or clones has been evolving alongside the originals. From websites that are fully copied to websites which claim to be "inspired" but lie more towards the illegal side of copyright laws, clones are everywhere.
This is truly shocking for both the developers and the company behind the original website. No one wants to wake up and see that their website has been ripped off completely. That is basically hours of coding and original content or design copied by someone to build their website effortlessly.
Copycats avoid the need to come up with a development model, the design, structure, administrative functions, and original graphics. From a company's perspective that has paid a third-party developer or firm to build a website for them, this can be the worst thing ever.
Put simply; Web Design plagiarism is the act of copying another website's design, structure, or concepts. It's even worse if copycat websites claim that it is their original design.
Actions under Web Design Plagiarism
We all know what plagiarism is, but what exactly are the acts that can be considered as Web Design plagiarism? Before indulging yourself in the development process, first research and confirm if designs or concepts such as the one you have in your mind already exist. If they do, it is time to adopt different strategies.
Now, let us check the most common activities that can be considered as plagiarized design or content.
- Copying website designs, elements, UI, UX, textual content, graphics, layouts, and structures are considered web design plagiarism, fundamentally being highly illegal.
- Copying landing pages or affiliate pages from other sources.
- Plagiarizing original media, banners, and logos is illegal as well. One can definitely be inspired by the design or colors and can build a custom-built website around it while crediting the original website; however, logos and design graphics cannot be similar.
- Content-scraping or copy-scraping through the use of bots or individuals is illegal in a lot of countries. And data scraping is considered to be a form of cyber-crime in some instances, especially if owners of the source are not aware of these activities.
- Trademarked functionalities and administrative structures cannot be copied either.
- Copying the source code or the code behind any page is illegal, and developers must be careful not simply to recreate and then host copied codes.
- Font can be copied and used in similar design layouts, but if it is not original, rather an exact copy of the original, it falls under web design plagiarism as well.
However, there are three things that one must remember.
- Without declaring that a website is protected by copyright law, it cannot be protected from its design getting copied.
- If the plagiarist has permission or legal rights to copy the content or design, they can do so. In this case, one cannot report and should not report against web design plagiarism.
- If one is using a default template or open-source code, he or she will come across many similar websites. This is not illegal, and no one can be prosecuted for the same.
Web Design Plagiarism consequences
The consequences of plagiarizing website designs depend on the country of residence (both victim and plagiarist) and the extent of the plagiarism. Plagiarism can lead to the copycat website being taken down or even major legal trouble as well. From heavy fines, which can go upwards of $100,000, plagiarists can even be punished with imprisonment.
Below are some of the actions that the court or authorities can take against plagiarists.
- The authorities will first issue warnings or injunctions, proceeding to take down the website if ignored.
- Authorities might then seize the website and hold physical (servers) or digital assets as evidence if the extent of the case is serious.
- Plagiarists will be warned to build websites until further notice, and this can affect their careers. In between all this, they lose their reputation and name as well. They lose out on users or clients, which is a considerable loss and definitely not worth it.
- If found guilty, defaulters will be fined and, if required, even imprisoned.
- Among all this, plagiarists must also compensate the owners of the original website.
- Due to a criminal record and their reputation being hampered, plagiarists lose out on the opportunity to get hired by genuine companies.
For instance, this website has definitely been inspired by Youtube; however, it is not a copycat website. This is not illegal.
Though, one thing to remember is that all countries have different laws for plagiarism. Besides, the country of origin of the original website matters as well, especially if they are registered as a separate entity locally or in the countries of operation. These websites are more capable of taking drastic legal action across international waters. However, it is very easy for local and small website owners; many copyright laws protect their efforts and ideas.
Tips to avoid dealing with Plagiarism
When building a website, the first thing to keep in mind is to always provide "Copyright ©" alongside the company's name or person and place "All rights reserved" in the footer. This ensures that the message gets across that your website cannot be copied, and there will be legal trouble if someone does copy the content or design of the website.
Mentioning this is imperative as plagiarists were warned that copyright laws protect the website, and in their defense, they cannot argue otherwise. Therefore, you must follow the principles of good design.
Here are some other things developers can do to find if their content or design got plagiarized.
- Developers, website owners, or companies can use internet plagiarism-finding tools, services, and websites once in a while to stay updated.
- Owners can hire third-party analysts or firms to keep track of the website in question by continuously checking for plagiarism.
- Website owners can use plugins, tools, and software such as copy spiders to monitor the web for plagiarized content daily. Website owners can also utilize Google alerts for the same purpose.
- Asking website users and visitors to report plagiarized content if they notice it anywhere.
Steps to take against Plagiarism
If you find that your website design or content has been plagiarized, you can do a number of things to deal with it; here are some of them.
- Finding the contact information of the plagiarist and sending an email to take the copycat website down.
- If the contact information is not available, one can run a WHOIS lookup in order to find the domain owners and then contact them with the given information.
- If the domain owners of the copycat website have kept their information private and not for public view, one can contact the domain provider and lodge a complaint to them for the same. If domain providers do not cooperate, sending a legally approved letter to the providers can authorize them to share the required information with you.
- If the plagiarists do not reply or cannot get a hold of them, one can directly report the issue to Google. Google can shut down a lot of its core functions and scope for revenue.
- Website owners can rate the copycat negatively in Google reviews and ask users to go and do the same.
- Victims can send a takedown notice to the domain providers, and they must comply according to the DMCA or Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
- Victims can complain to the Chamber of Commerce and finally to the legal authorities of the country. If the copycats are from foreign lands, foreign laws will apply to them; however, they will not be protected from the copyright laws of their native land. This should be the last option as suing someone takes effort and money, especially if the plagiarists belong to foreign countries. Website owners should try to actively contact the plagiarists and take the website down in the initial stages itself. Generally, a warning is enough to scare defaulters of copyright laws away.
Other than simply taking copycat websites down, original owners should definitely ask for compensation for any losses incurred, including the trauma caused to both the owner and the users. Plagiarism does not just have legal repercussions for the plagiarists but also negatively affects the credibility and originality of the victims.
Clients and consumers are also affected in the middle of this, leading to massive losses for both sides. This is definitely not worth it, especially for innocent victims of plagiarism who have to fight for something that was always theirs to begin with. Other than the legality of it all, it is simply unethical to copy someone's original work. Design and concepts are like artwork to developers; they should be respected and appreciated.
The best way to avoid these after-effects is by not plagiarizing anything and always depending on original content. Putting in some effort and time into websites can save plagiarists a whole lot of effort, time, and legal interaction in the future. With multiple tools, services, and advancements in front-end web development, developers do not need to copy ideas, designs, or logos to build dynamic and immersive high-quality websites.
Remember, even if you are just taking inspiration, one must always be cautious to keep it that way. It should be “inspired” and not “copied.” Even a small difference can lead to huge legal trouble.