Branding Plagiarism – What’s Legal and What’s Not?

branding plagiarism what is acceptable design agency

The rules of plagiarism are pretty clear when it comes to academic writing, college essays and the use of images. What isn’t your own work, no matter if those are words or images, everything needs to be referenced. One would assume the same criteria apply to all other fields and industries. However, in the graphic design and branding industry, very often the line as to what is acceptable and what isn’t, is very blurry. 

In general, there are three sources where design comes from. For the sake of a clear understanding of this article, references will be made to web design. A website can be created either by a design agency, a freelance designer or through a design platform. The article will discuss each of the options one by one. 

Design Agency 

A graphic design agency, or a studio, is a professional organization specialized in a web design. The designers are experienced and usually hold a design-related academic degree. Having the industry knowledge, being educated in the field and having a customer-oriented mindset, they are aware that plagiarism is a strict no-go. 

Such designers take pride in their work and keep in mind a good reputation of the agency as well as customer satisfaction. As a result, the delivered design (most of the time) presents exceptional originality and creativity. Design agency’s view is clear: no plagiarism is okay. Not for the designer, not for the agency and not for the client. 

Freelance Designer 

Freelance designers differ dramatically in the work they deliver. The reason for this lies in the nature of their work style. Theoretically, only an experienced or academically accredited person can call himself / herself a graphic designer. In reality, however, everyone can call themselves whatever they want. 

Since these individuals freelance, they do not go through any official selection such as agency hiring procedures. Their work ethic and originality of a web design cannot be confirmed by any authority other than customer reviews and recommendations. Naturally, there are all sorts of freelance graphic designers. Some are well-known and present world-class websites. Some, however, are amateurs simply trying to earn an extra income on the side. 

Problem with finding a good freelance graphic designer with experience and work ethic is the same as the commonly known issue with finding a photographer. Who is a professional and who is simply photography passionate with a good camera? The professionalism directly influences the use of plagiarized content. Who knows enough about copyright laws to get inspired by someone else’s work but not copy it? 

Design Platforms 

Design platforms, whose job is to connect clients with freelancers, show clear views on plagiarism. There are two types of platforms: ones that vet their designers and ones that don’t. The first type tends to carefully review each designer applicant’s portfolio and only allows entry to the platform once the professionalism, experience and work ethic requirements are fulfilled. Such platforms don’t allow the designers to see each other’s work for the same client what prevents even subconscious copying. Once freelancers break the rules and plagiarize content, the platform removes them. 

The second type of platform allows entry to all freelancers without any major selection criteria. Moreover, the multiple designers working on the same project for one client, are able to view each other’s work. As a result, the delivered websites (from which the client chooses the winning one) differ only in details. The resemblance and plagiarism are visible with a clear eye. However, such practice seems to be acceptable by both the platform as well as the clients as the demand and number of projects isn’t decreasing. 

The viewpoints on whether plagiarism in design is okay or not are divided. Professionalism and experience certainly have an effect on the delivered websites and work ethic. While top- level designers pride themselves in originality of their work, amateur freelancers don’t find it as important. Clients, however, tend to accept that lower costs result in low quality of websites and copies with only minor differences. 

Natalia Raben is an international business and management student taking care of content marketing at DesignBro. Lover of design, photography and the arts.

I hope you enjoyed this article about branding plagiarism and what is or isn't acceptable for businesses online and on social media.

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