Copyright laws

You already know how to build a website, design creative layouts, and find clients who want to use your skills for their businesses. Where you don’t want to be caught out is in liability issues that will not only hurt the business you are working with, but also your reputation as a designer.

Copyright is one of the major civil liabilities about which you should become knowledgeable. As a higher education student, I know that I need to give credit to the sources that provide me with the information using parenthetical notations and a reference page. In some ways copyright is just like the plagiarism you find in education.

What is copyright?

Copyright is normally associated with printed material in the physical form. In the information age, though, it applies to online content. UK copyright is regulated by Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. If you are not good with legal jargon, you may want to find someone who is able to translate this information for you.

Website Law: an SEQ Legal is a good starting point to learn about the legalities behind copyright. The website states:

“Literary copyright protects website text, as well as HTML and program code; artistic copyright protects images and photos; musical copyright and sound recording copyright protect music hosted on a site; and copyright or database right (a close relative of copyright) may protect datasets of database-backed sites. The complexity of copyright protection in a single website can be daunting.”

Don’t steal from other people’s websites

Many designers surf around for inspiration.  Some find it very difficult to make the distinction between inspiration and blatant copyright infringement. Make sure you do this by making notes about the mood of the websites and using adjectives to describe them so you are clear about what you like about the site.


Do not design while looking at the inspirational design since you can easily be tempted to use their design features. If you want to use a part of someone’s code or an image, make sure you get permission first.

What do spiders have to do with it?

According to’s web design section, larger corporations use “spiders” to find copyright infringements. If they find that something on your site is similar to theirs, they could tell you to take it down. Not only will you have to explain to your clients that you need to take certain items off the site, but your credibility may also be damaged for the future.

Copyscape is another tool you can use to see if anyone has stolen information or ideas from you.

But, I’m not a lawyer!!

You may not have the expertise of all the laws that regulate web design, but you cannot use the excuse that you did not know. You need to remain credible to build your business; creativity is not everything. Make sure you know what you can and cannot use online on your own site and be prepared to answer those who think that you have copied their work without obtaining permission.

How to protect your work

According to Intellectual Property Office, copyright is automatic thanks to the Berne Convention. It is recommended that you put the © symbol with the year and name of the owner. You can register your websites with companies like UK Copyright Service, but it is not necessary. Since peer pressure in the tightly knit community of designers is quite strong, you can expect to be ‘named and shamed’ on twitter and blogs if you copy from others or you are copied from.  For the most part, this is enough to make the culprit take down their work.  Most professional web designers would never risk copyright infringement as it will destroy their online reputation.

When you’re working with clients, make sure you clarify who owns the designs. Common practice is to assign copyright to the client while retaining the right to link/talk/display the work in your portfolio or on blogs, as well as to keep the original source files (usually photoshop documents). Many designers require substantially higher fees if the client wants all source material as well as full copyright. If you do not make these distinctions clear in your contract, the client will be within its right to ask you to remove copyrighted material from your portfolio.

Take a look at the following sites to help you get a grip on copyright

Let us know about your experiences

Have you ever been accused of copyright infringement? If so, how did they find out? What happened to the site you were working on? Has it caused any damage to your own business? Has anyone stolen your stuff? What did you do?


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