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My client… copyright infringement??… any advice?

  • # January 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    So I’m in a situation where I’m slightly unsure what the best path to take is and could really use some advice from fellow designers..

    I’ve started a freelance project recently for a new client. When meeting with them they showed me sites that they liked, but one in particular they really liked and said they wanted someone to build them a site like it. After some discussion I expressed that the challenge would be in creating something similar but different enough to pass as a unique design..

    So roll on a few weeks, I’ve received my 50% deposit and am into the design stage. As I send them comps and receive feedback it’s slowly turning into the site that they showed me. I put together comps with the navigation across the top (it’s down the side in the site they like), I put various elements in different places, but during their feedback one by one they request that each element be moved to where they are in the website example that they like. So now the design comp we’ve ended up at is very similar to the site they showed me. The colors are different, the imagery is different, the fonts are different, and the content is different, but the layout and functionality of the site is almost identical. The tricky thing is that the site they showed me is very well designed – they have all of the layout put together in a logical and usable way, so it’s not like I can really improve upon the user experience drastically by moving things around. So the comp we’ve arrived at now makes sense, but it’s awfully similar as I mentioned.

    I’m interested to know what others would do in this situation? It’s a new client who is paying me very well for the project and I don’t want to get off to a bad start with them, but I’m a little anxious about both copyright infringement (is this considered copyright infringement??) and my integrity as a designer.

    Any feedback would be much appreciated!!

    Thanks in advance.

    John

    # January 20, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Well, structure is only a small part of design. Think of every single WordPress blog – the all follow the same basic structure, it’s the design that sets them apart. Obviously if the design is the same, then you’re in a bit of trouble.

    # January 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Sometimes it’s not even about infringement of copyrighted material you have to worry about. If the site matches how the other company brands itself, they could claim “trade dress” which basically means how they distinctively separate themselves apart.

    I find this actually quite funny because it’s almost exactly why my former employer and I butted heads which partly lead to me no longer working there. I think companies have the wrong idea about designers. We like to be chosen based on our own style. If it were me, I would honestly ask for a meeting to go over what you are having issues with. Respect yourself and what you do as a profession. It will only hurt your image if you leave it alone.

    # January 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Sounds a little like you have a lack of communication with your client. Why have you not sat down with him and talked to him about your concerns and then work on a compromise for the design. Sometimes people are stuck on a design until they see a better alternative and this is where you the designer needs to step up your game to show the client a design just as good, but different.

    # January 21, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Hey guys, thanks for the input, I really appreciate it.

    @TheDoc, I know that using a similar structure would be A-Ok, but to give you a better idea take a look at this site: http://www.janploch.de/. Now imagine a design which uses different colors and fonts, and the layout of the body content is different, but the site layout is the same and it used a glass of soda instead of a bottle – with the exact same functionality as that site (scrolling down emptied the glass of soda).

    @ChristopherBurton, I starting to think that this client actually doesn’t really want me to do much designing, but rather just build them a version of the site they liked in their own branding and using their own content. I’m hoping I can weave some magic to make it sufficiently different though, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    @springlab, yeah that could be the problem. I feel like my initial comps were just as good and sufficiently different but as I mentioned his revision requests slowly turned it back into the design he had showed me initially.

    Thanks again for the input.

    # January 23, 2012 at 12:11 am

    Hmmm… yea, that’s a pretty unique site. Tough to say, really.

    # January 23, 2012 at 6:45 am

    Have you considered mentioning that it’s starting to turn into the website he likes and that by doing so he’s not going to do himself any favours in terms of a unique design? Remind him that it’s fine to get inspiration from other sites, but stealing someones design will make him look like his business is not at all unique.

    # January 23, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Just my personal opinion:
    a) that other guy’s site is WICKED. *thumbs up*
    b) I think it is really your clients responsibility to not infringe copyright, as at the end of the day it is their site. Make sure you have in writing some emails from you, saying that the website is infringing copyright, and make sure you have some emails from your client saying “NO NO NO CARRY ON!”, just so that if worst came to worst you can prove you aren’t liable for the action
    c) If you really aren’t keen on this, you can always stop. If you have a contract with clients that they agree to before you begin work its great to have a line that says “I reserve the right to stop work on any project at any point”, but phrased a little nicer.

    If you were to stop, I would stop because its not fair on that other web designer, not because that company could get sued.

    All just personal opinion, I don’t have much experience with this kind of thing but I think its a moral question as much as its a legal or otherwise one.

    # January 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Hey guys, really appreciate the feedback. I have a meeting with the client later this week so I’ll bring some of these points up to them then.

    Thanks again!

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