Can Website Design Be Copyrighted? An Expert's Perspective

The clearest way to conceptualize the lack of high-level functionality of web design is through the understanding that a web designer's career is built by presenting the same information in a new way. There are other legal avenues to protect the design of a website, such as laws on contract issues or unfair competition, so it is worth considering whether intellectual property protection for web design is necessary. For example, compare the before and after screenshots from the Harvard Law Review website, which Upstatement redesigned, below. The customer, who will own the site after it has been paid, is unlikely to fight to protect the design for several reasons.

Designers have a vested interest in their creations, as they are part of their identity and something they have worked hard on. They also take pride in the reputation given to the finished design when they send it out into the public. Designers have relatively little interest beyond paying customers and the reputational attraction of future customers. For direct competitors, it is likely that a company established to sell counterfeit products will have to hire a web designer to create its online presence, and the notice served by the legitimate website, combined with the difficulty of synchronizing pre-existing competing content with a duplicate website, can deter designers from copying or make it more expensive for the counterfeiter to hire such a designer.

This section explores this tension between standardization and the freedom to create original designs and finds that, ultimately, the two are not polar opposites because they are driven by mismatched ends. The designer will then guide the customer to determine what specific aspects of those websites the customer expects to see on their own website. In addition, the visual layout changed from three columns with a menu in the far right column to two columns of articles with a menu on a horizontal bar, giving readers a smoother browsing experience than the initial cluttered layout presented. The court held that the designs of a haircare product line and the corresponding website were not made-to-order work because the designer was largely independent of the customer and was not treated as an employee.

In the web design community, there are competing incentives to standardize and differentiate website design. It does NOT prevent a web designer from recreating the look of the site using their own original source code. The company alleged the appropriation of those design elements by a competitor who had made similar modifications to its website in just six hours after the update of the complainant's website. Because designers are regularly inspired by collections of other websites, and there are common trends in the industry (such as responsive web design), an implicit code of ethics has been developed, in which copying elements is allowed but only in moderation.

However, Jared added that since web designers are part of a close-knit community, any designer who passed someone else's work as his own would be caught and publicly reprimanded.

Dorothy Bauer
Dorothy Bauer

Extreme creator. Award-winning music geek. Award-winning twitter buff. Extreme coffee enthusiast. Subtly charming tv maven.

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