15 July 2006

It seems The City Church isn’t the only design being ripped off lately. Khoi Vinh, a well-known designer, had his personal blog design copied emulated by an architectural institution. He wrote about it, admitting he was at a loss for course of action, and the comment thread that followed could literally be bound as a novel. Long story short: The designer responsible for the institution’s site apologized for misinterpreting Khoi’s copyright notice and removed the design, defaulting back to a previous one. It’s a happy ending, but the discussion is still going on Khoi’s site … do check it out. (And don’t skip the comments.) So my thoughts immediately go to this Joomlart rip off of our (or Jesse’s) design, which is more than a little “inspired”. We’ve clearly placed a copyright notice (including the “all rights reserved” clause) on every single page of the site, but some still defend the template and its designers, stating that it’s not an exact copy, and that the source code is completely different (source).

Now, since The City Church site has received so much attention (did you see we won two CSS Mania awards?! Woohoo!), I anticipated having to deal with plagiarism, to some extent. In fact, I’ve even been asked if I’d email the PSD and source files to someone so they could copy the site for their own use – you know, since they were “located so far away”. Right. I’m not opposed to people taking the design and code for educational purposes, but straight-up copying is cheap and (in my personal opinion) unethical.

I know Jesse deals with this all the time, and I’ve read other designer’s blogs as they’ve engaged in the same sort of battles, with their own designs being stolen or repurposed. My position has always stayed the same: I’m with the designers.

See, there’s just two sides to this issue, and two kinds of people involved:

  1. The designers or design-saavy – those that understand design to be a commodity, something valued as much (or more) than physical objects that can be traded, bought and sold.
  2. The design-wannabes or genuinely ignorant – those that think design is liquid and free, something of lesser value than, say, source code. These people also attack designers personally, citing the designer’s inability to see the “big picture.”

Now, before I go further let me clarify and say that while it’s evident the Joomlart template has been built from the ground-up, and the designers (apparently a team?) that worked on it probably worked very hard, it still emulates elements of The City Church design too closely to be considered original.

Also, what makes this case unique is the fact that our design is being redistributed and sold. You must be a member of the Joomlart site in order to download the template, and a membership costs $40 per year. The fact that others can download, easily install and use this template/design in about 5 minutes makes this even more sticky. How could Joomlart cleanup should they somehow see the error of their ways? They’d have to contact each member and ask them to, out of the kindness of their heart, stop using the template.

Ugh. This is not flattery.