Twitter, Facebook, WordPress.org. What do all these sites have in common? They are all successful and have pretty decent designs to boot. It’s no wonder that they are used as inspiration but what happens when inspiration goes to far and you can’t tell the difference between the inspired theme, and the original design? Confusion, that’s what. Not only that, but a bunch of people ridiculing you for ripping something off. The line between something being inspirational and a total ripoff is subjective. In fact, a lengthy discussion about this very topic occurred in the WPTavern forum just before Christmas in 2009 regarding mimicking a copyrighted design. Just about all the members who participated in the conversation said it was bad form, not to mention the possible legalities involved.
Legal issues are also part of the equation. I think if you are using a cloned theme for your website design, you’re putting yourself at risk. There is no telling what might happen in the future which is why it’s best to not go down that road. Sadly, based on the conversation in the forum, enforcing the copyright is more than half the battle.
WPLover.com has also published an article on this topic with a great quote that brings up the GPL.
Please stop this. The freedom in GPL does not mean the freedom to steal copyrighted design. Stop making clones of popular websites and turning them into WordPress themes. It doesn’t matter if you release it only for personal use, or under GPL, if you code the CSS yourself, if you painstakingly recreate the graphic elements in Photoshop. It’s still, as Ryan Hellyer puts it, “illegal, immoral, and unethical.”
Since we are on the topic of cloned themes, I thought I’d share a little bit on how I do things. I’m not a graphic designer nor a CSS coder. I use extensions like Web Developer in FireFox to copy CSS from other websites and adapt it to my needs. I also view hundreds of designs in WordPress and showcase websites to look for things that I want to use on my site. This may include icons, graphical elements, color schemes, etc. I’m not going to create a wooden texture in Photoshop if one is already created to use as my Widget header. I will however play around with the image until it suits my needs. I’m not sure if that makes me a thief or not but I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Typically, I’ll view websites with color schemes I’m aiming to achieve and either use those or shades of them. I’ve never turned a theme or site into a direct copy of anything anyone else had.
Am I a thief if I take a small part of a graphical element found within the header of a design and use it to create a new graphical element in my header? What are the boundaries I should adhere to when it comes to using images and CSS that are readily available thanks to Firefox extensions and right click save image as?