I'm facing an issue here. A customer asked me to copy an exact site, and even though I'm trying to convince him of going for a new design he does not accept it. He loves this design so much (on a side note it's horrible and outdated, but I wouldn't say that to him!)

It's been a couple of weeks since we are discussing this and I don't know what to do. Do you have similar experiences? I don't want to lose the customer, he pays well and his jobs are really easy. At the same time, I don't want to put my signature on someone else's work.

Any suggestions? Similar experiences? Thank you!

  • 4
    Why not try to contact the other website owner and ask if you can use the template? Being an outdated layout, probably won't cost you a penny... Also, if the layout is that ugly, I wouldn't like to have my name associated with it. :-)
    – acm
    Feb 17 '11 at 17:32
  • 1
    Why not copy and obfuscate? You can charge the customer extra for redoing things a bit. If you are in no way competing with that other website, then what is the big deal? Some customers can only afford copy-and-paste jobs. If you think that this would be more pain than gain, then politely refuse to do the work. Perhaps you can point that customer to someone else you know?
    – Job
    Feb 17 '11 at 17:35
  • 9
    " (on a side note it's horrible and outdated, but I wouldn't say that to him!)" -- Why wouldn't you? Maybe he'd respect your opinion. Feb 17 '11 at 17:50

If you ask me, new customers are a lot easier to acquire than your reputation and your conscience.

  • @Jon - you didn't understand yan. He is advocating ditching the customer and protecting one's rep. Hence the numerous upvotes of assent...
    – Drew
    Feb 21 '11 at 10:49
  • @Andrew - oops, you're right. Had a cold last week and read it as the opposite. Sorry yan, shall delete. Feb 21 '11 at 11:13

First, you could try to find out why he likes that site so much: is it the balance/visual structure of contents, the color palette or general feeling of trustworthyness ? Maybe he just can't express his needs properly and only wants something "like that site" because he can't imagine another way.

Then, he may be worried that creating a whole site takes too long, so you may suggest him that starting from a template and customizing it could be a good ratio price/time (given he doesn't seem all that interested in having a unique design).

If all fails, you may want to point him to "horror" stories e.g. from Myows' blog for him to realize that it's just too risky (given morale never works in such cases, only possible loss of money does).

If he still doesn't get it, then it may be time to cut your losses and find another client.

Ironically, Myows just posted a new blog post that reminds me of this question:

enter image description here

(KopyKat File 9 – Cost Effective from Myows)


Contact the owners of the design and ask to buy the design, and bill your customer. Otherwise tell him that it is illegal and that he might face legal issues (you as well).


You can be "inspired" by another piece of art without plagarizing it. So long as you do not copy the HTML and CSS, but rather invent it yourself there shouldn't be much moral ambiguity.

If he wants an exact copy, mention that it's against the law to copy something exactly.

  • 2
    +1: If you want to be Really crazy about it, you do "cleanroom" development. You read the original site. You write detailed specifications for other programmers to work from. They never saw the original site, just your specifications. Perfectly, wonderfully legal, and full employment for a lot of people.
    – S.Lott
    Feb 17 '11 at 19:13

Oftentimes, that's just what a person says to get you going in the direction they want - hopefully no one would be silly enough to have you rebrand someone else's website.

I reproduced Industrial Light and Magic's old (circa 2002) website for a film convention. That was a lot of fun. I did it from scratch and didn't copy any images. Also, I wasn't paid, but I got to go to the convention for free.

The answer to your question probably has a lot to do with fair use. If you're a competitor, this is a bad idea, if you're an advertiser in another field, this might be a lame but safe idea (i.e. riffing off the same track).

The thing you don't want to do, because you are a programmer, is cut and paste. That's the #1 priority, it is beneath us as programmers to lower our standards that far.

  • 1
    Given the international nature of this board, I'll point out that "fair use" law is variable by location, absent in some.
    – Orbling
    Feb 17 '11 at 20:08
  • @orbling, except in Iran, where it is totally illegal. Feb 17 '11 at 21:07
  • When I said "absent in some", I meant that.
    – Orbling
    Feb 17 '11 at 21:12

I think there are many questions you still have to ask them. Look and feel is only a small chunk of good UX design.

If they are a competitor you should try to drive the fact that they should differentiate and succeed vs following them.

You would think that after working with you for so long they would trust your opinion.


The risk your client takes is real and simple - if the original company / designer finds out, the site he asked you to create will be closed down and could be de-indexed from Google.

EDIT: removed link to a Myows cartoon, already posted by wildpeaks

  • Max, it's against the rules on SE sites to spam mentions of your company and not include your affiliation.
    – Dori
    Feb 18 '11 at 3:27
  • 2
    @Dori: My feeling is that's a comic, not spam.
    – Josh K
    Feb 18 '11 at 14:49
  • @Josh - Now that he's deleted the link, yes. Prior to that, well, the FAQ says that when you link to your own site, "you must disclose your affiliation in your answers."
    – Dori
    Feb 19 '11 at 0:47

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