If I have a television sitting in my living room, and I come home to find my front door busted in and the television gone, it’s obviously been stolen. If I work on a site design, and discover 90% of my design on another site, I’d also cry “thief!” But for many non-designers (and apparently some designers too) the border between inspiration and theft is rather blurry.
When I look at Falkner Winery, I see Joyent, with a little colour and window-dressing from Cork’d, and just enough newness to make it clear that it’s a winery site, and not some sister-site of Joyent. In other words, the front door’s busted in, and the t.v. is gone. Maybe they left the antenna behind, but it’s a clear case of stolen in my eyes. But I’m a designer. I work months on a site to get everything the way I and the client want it, and when it’s done, I’ve failed if it looks the same as some other site. Considering I earn my money with this effort, and my clients pay their money for it, we’d both take it pretty seriously if some other designer saved himself the effort which cost us so much time and money by copying my design.
Design theft is pretty hard to define quantitatively. Take it to court and it all comes down to the judge’s eye and his feeling about it. Maybe there is something like a “more than 50% copied” rule, but in the end the judge has to draw the line. Design is just too subjective to be put on a scale.
Discussions of such design theft pop up in blogs every now and then, usually started by designers like myself. But what always surprises me is how many non-designers don’t see this sort of thing as a problem. I’d be interested what you think. Look at the three sites, and let me know if you’re a designer or not, and what you think. Is Falkner Winery a blatant ripoff, or just a matter of inspiration?