What is the etiquette on copying design??

Jun 06, 2017

Hey everyone - I've been very busy this year working on developing my own Articulate Storyline course starter templates that I will eventually put up for sale.

So, I have spent a lot of time looking at all sorts of e-Learning examples and using what I consider the best elements of some of these examples in my designs - we all do this, right? However, in doing so, I have been super conscious of not blatantly "copying" the designs of others, but developing my own design from the concepts - so none of the templates I'm producing will be reognisable from the original designs I've used for inspiration.

At the moment I'm working on a somewhat generic "scenario" slide - and in my search for inspirational images on the Internet, I came across an image that looked very familiar to me.

When I followed the link I found that someone has not only copied pretty much screen for screen one of my scenario designs that I put a lot of work into from scratch (and sought and received feedback on from this community in this discussion and entered into this weekly challenge over a year ago), they have also copied the navigation and colour scheme, and unbelievably taken the content and pretty much used 90% of the wording I created in my scenario in theirs, including using the exact topic I based the scenario on.

It appears that this has only just gone up on their website in the last few weeks. They are releasing this as a "freebie" at this link here, promoting scenario-based design and their custom e-Learning services: http://www.swiftelearningservices.com/custom-elearning-development-top-5-considerations-for-building-interactive-scenarios-for-elearning/

I feel annoyed and very tempted to challenge them about this and add a comment to their web page.

Obviously they are members of this community, which has shocked me as I have found everyone here very respectful and talented in their own right - I don't consider copying others is a talent!

What would you do in this scenario?!!

20 Replies
Phil Mayor

Hi Dianne, I would take it as a huge compliment.

I have found my work in other peoples portfolios and really used to get frustrated by this. I have recently seen work/designs that I have created submitted to elearning challenges. 

Now I don't care, I like to share my stuff and I am glad someone is finding a use for it. What I will not do anymore is share anything that goes in my Portfolio! 

Steve Jobs once quote Picasso

“Good artists copy, great artists steal”

and followed up with:

“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

he also said:

"Great people actually understand at a deeper level what makes something great and then build on the shoulders of that and build something even more marvelous and take it further,"

I always smile when I see that when someone has copied my work they either make it worse or failed to understand the intention in the design!

I guess I still care a little.

Dianne  Hope

Thanks for your comment Phil.  

The thing is, I never shared this file at all, just my thought process and visual design.  I never thought the visuals would be used/copied outright - it's been recreated from scratch in another software.  When I share my thought process, I never imagine someone will blatantly copy something like this so closely, without reference to the original source.  

I guess I should consider it a compliment that they thought so much of my demo to copy it so closely - but I would never do this myself without crediting the person for at least the inspiration for my design based on their work, as you will see from all the work I share in my e-Portfolio. 

I always say that "no idea is new" and I believe this goes for design ideas as well, but when I use others' work for inspiration, I don't copy the work screen-for-screen, word-for-word; I add my own creative flair and make it mine, not something I have stolen.

I'm not sure about that quote "great artists steal" - if they're so great, why can't they come up with their own designs??

Phil Mayor

That must be the ultimate "compliment" that they took the effort to rebuild it. I suppose your blog post helped with the specific.

A credit although appropriate probably doesn't make commercial sense here.

I believe "steal" in the context of the quote means that they will take possession of it, transform it into something fresh and new, something that belongs to them.

Dianne  Hope

Thanks for taking the time to comment Bruce.

Don't get me wrong - I don't mind others appreciating my work - and if I share a source file, then obviously it's fair game for anyone to do whatever they want with this, but up until now I have experienced more along the lines of respectful requests to reference my designs if they're going to be used and in this community, from my experience, this has been the norm.

I hope others will agree that the purpose of creating an e-Portfolio is to promote my own design work - and to do this I need to display this work in detail.  There's a difference between using someone's design as a basis for your design as opposed to what this person has done - which I consider is taking advantage of my generosity in sharing. If this was content on the Internet in a post or article, you wouldn't be allowed to copy it word-for-word, would you?

I will always care a little and behave ethically, and will probably always be puzzled by those who do otherwise without due consideration for the person they're exploiting.

Strong words? Maybe...but I still have mixed feelings about this.

Dianne  Hope

Whilst I understand that a credit wouldn't have made commercial sense in this situation, this is even more reason to question why an organisation would think it's okay to do what they've done - put up work they've copied from someone else in a situation where crediting the source they copied from wouldn't have made commercial sense.  

Thanks for the explanation of "steal" - but in this case, they didn't transform my design into something fresh and new.  As a dedicated professional in this field, I do follow what others do - and I'm sure I'm not alone here.  Isn't this how we all learn - by watching from others in our field?

If they had have transformed this into something fresh and new I would have seriously applauded them, but all they did was copy it and put it up as something that belongs to them to promote their own work.

I need to sleep on this overnight - it will probably seem less annoying to me in the morning...

Christy Tucker

Have you tried contacting them? I think it would be reasonable to request they give you credit. Even in this commercial setting, you could ask them to add a line at the bottom of the post saying, "Inspired by Dianne Hope" or "Adapted from an example by Dianne Hope," with a link back to your portfolio. That way, you get some credit and possibly some traffic on your own site.

I know you and Matt have talked about this perhaps not making commercial sense, but I would still ask. I have one example in my portfolio where I link the company selling it--that was a condition for me sharing content I developed for them. It's a win-win; I get an example for my portfolio, and they get some traffic to make a few more sales. You may be able to reach a similar agreement.

It's possible one of their developers did this without anyone higher up in the company knowing the design was copied. That's all the more reason to contact them directly.

It's also possible they think this was a sufficient change. Red instead of orange, a different font, instructions added below the characters, new content, etc. I agree with you that it's too close of a copy, but I wonder if this is similar to how many people fail to paraphrase text sufficiently to avoid plagiarism. This may be an issue of educating them about the norms of copying and adapting designs. There are still people who believe everything online is in the public domain, after all. You may need to explain otherwise.

Back when blog scraping was a profitable venture, I had stuff from my blog copied all the time. I decided that was fine as long as I got credit and made my blog CC-By. I did contact people several times about copying content without providing links back. I was almost always able to get them to agree to at least provide credit and a link. People were actually pretty accommodating as long as I started with a polite request.

Linda Lorenzetti

I had the same experience, Dianne.  I made an Operation game for one of the weekly challenges and a short time later someone uploaded a free download of an Operation game that "they" created.  I wouldn't have minded if they said it was inspired by my project, but they took full credit for it.  

I've also had someone update a project that I originally built in Presenter into Storyline and gave me credit for the idea.  I had no problem with that.

I sometimes use things that I've seen others do, but I don't make it blatantly similar.  I also mention my inspiration for ideas in this community, credit where credit is due.  Unfortunately, not everyone has the same ethic. 

Santosh b

Hi Dianne,

Your work was truly inspirational. The scenario I’ve created is the one based on your idea of branching scenario. I should have credited you for this (My apologies). But nonetheless, this is your concept.

The GUIs and templates we create on our website are being reused by others over internet. And one needs to credit them for their work – I agree.


Anne Seller

I have to say, Dianne, that I totally agree with your viewpoint on this. Someone has duplicated your work and has passed it off as their own, without acknowledging you in the slightest. You just don’t do that. It is totally unprofessional, very unfair to you and it reflects very badly on them. Good for you for calling them out on this! I would have done the same if it had happened to me. I’m just sorry that you had to go through this experience.

Dianne  Hope

Individual replies to comments on this page don't seem to be working - so I'm going to post one response here.

Thank you so much for taking the time to add your thoughts Christy, Linda and Anne.

I have been contacted by Santosh who I see has also put a short response up here - an apology, but no action apart from that yet. There seems to be quite an ethical disconnect - "based on your idea" is not at all accurate in my view. Yes, this was my "concept" - but there was not enough modification to state that this version was just based on my concept.

I did add a comment to the website post, but this is still awaiting moderation. 

I now see that Santosh was not part of this community originally - my mistake and apologies to other community members who in my experience are totally professional and respectful of others' work.

Hopefully by calling this out, I have taken a step in the right direction to educate others that everything online is not public domain.

Tom Ashcraft
Dianne  Hope

Thanks Matt - you're right, of course.

I've moved on now (a 50km bike ride this morning helped with this!), but I just needed to vent a little first.  

I guess I'm a bit naive, but now I know more about this I'll put my energy into growing a thicker skin!

Whilst I think it's great that others share their source files, I very rarely download these as I prefer to work out how to do something myself and as you say, learn through experimentation, which also deepens my understanding of not only design, but how users will interact with my designs and always a priority for me is how I can improve on something that has inspired me to develop an even better end product.

Love the video btw! Humour is good at times like this - I need to work on this more!

Nancy Woinoski

Do you have a copyright on your blog or any indication that people need your permission to use or re-create any ideas or designs shared on your blog?  This might help prevent future incidents or give you some rights if someone does this to you again.

I have people steal from me all the time and while I agree with Phil and Bruce to a certain point, I don't think it is right that people copy a design to the letter and then offer it up on their website as a freebie that they designed themselves.  

I had someone steal my "what teachers never told you about managing your money" course and use it for their PHD thesis. In this case they didn't even recreate it, they just recorded it off the Articulate site so any interactivity was lost. They also stripped out the audio and added in poor quality audio in different languages.  I happened to stumble upon the thesis when doing research about the use of voice in elearning. I was so angry I was temped to contact the university and get the person expelled for plagiarism. I didn't do this but did contact the person directly and let them know my views on what they had done.  

Dianne  Hope

Thanks for your comment Nancy.

I don't have a copyright on my blog - but perhaps I should add something about asking for permission to use or re-create my designs. It would be interesting to know what others have done - I'm going to watch out for this on websites I visit now.

Wow - your story on the student copying your work for their PHD thesis is unbelievable. I don't think I could live with myself if I did something like this!

The ending to my story is all good - I have been contacted directly by the Director of this organisation with an admission that they did the wrong thing and the demo has been removed from their website at my request.

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