Copyright: “Steal like an Artist”

“Nothing is original”, said Austin Kleon, during his speech for Tedx Talks.

Sadly, the lack of originality around the world has been carried into the world of the Internet, where people live and breathe “creative” content everyday.

Indeed, with the rise of social media and the advancement in web technologies today, the world seems to be running low on novel ideas. It is no surprise to find works/content that are visually similar by coincidence or not.

Instagram pictures look similar.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 9.07.44 pm
(Screenshot, cropped:

Also, check out this compilation of Instagram pictures by Thomas Jullien.

Web designs look almost the same.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 9.44.51 pm


Songs sound the same too (?!)

(Check out: Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and compare it to Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”)

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 9.52.17 pm


With just a search on google, and a scroll through pinterest, instagram, and tumblr, we’ve virtually exposed ourselves to works from all over the world that can so easily be reused by anybody. To aggravate things, social media platforms such as twitter encourages people to conveniently reuse other user’s content with its ‘re-tweet’ function.

No wonder people today take things off the net and use them however they want without hesitation!

Still, the world seeks to continue generating creative-looking content everyday for many reasons. So, how can we remain “creative” in a world that has reached its saturation point in creativity?

We steal ideas, and reinvent them.

“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas” – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs confesses that stealing ideas and making it his own was the key contributor to the birth of ‘Apple’s DNA’ and hence, its success. Famous artist Pablo Picasso, English singer-songwriter David Bowie, and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky all agree.

Stealing Ideas for your website

Creating a website and designing it from scratch is not easy. Not only do you need to consider effective UX, you also need the expertise in coding. Thus, it is not uncommon that the average website creator feeds off various websites to get ideas of what he/she wants on their web page and to figure out the coding elements to it.

When it comes to web design, defining what counts as infringement can get slightly tricky. Basic features such as scroll bars, contact forms, shopping carts, and navigation bars are not protected by copyright because they are considered to be “functional elements”. It is for the same reason that Facebook did not win its lawsuit against StudiVZ, a social networking platform for students in German-speaking countries — Facebook’s sites’s elements were ‘too standardized’.

However, to protect web designers and their works, there are some features on a web design that are protected by copyright.

1) Contents.

Pictures, graphics, texts, that a web designer used on his/her webpage are protected by copyright. When gaining inspiration, you should use your own graphic content.

2) HTML/CSS Codes.

This is because they are considered as literary works by the author (web designer). Even if you change the ID and class names to make it look like your own work, it is still violation of copyright. Seek permission from the web designer if you really like a certain element or use templates. (Checkout:

You might wonder, what’s left for you to “steal”? Steal the idea, not the actual work. This means that you have to identify what strikes you in a design and take that experience and inspiration away with you, then create it in your own way.

Pablo Picasso “Good Artists copy, Great Artists steal.”


Kleon, Austin.  Steal Like an Artist. April 24, 2012.
Retrieved from:

Kyrnin, Jennifer. Are Web designs and HTML copyrighted. Accessed on April 5.
Retrieved from:

Dramburg, Sebastian. Copying Websites–How far can you legally go?. July 17, 2013.
Retrieved from:

Turnbull, Connor. Be Inspired, but Don’t Copy. June 30, 2011.
Retrieved from:–webdesign-3216


2 thoughts on “Copyright: “Steal like an Artist”

  1. Hmm. i agree that copyright issues is becoming more pertinent now that we all have access to internet. However, i think it would be crucial to look into certain definitions of copyright (copyright act) to look at what constitutes copyright infringement? the current framework gives a very robust structure as to what is infringement and what is fair use.

    there are that many ways a photo can be taken. however, the intent, and message that is sent may be drastically different. so perhaps that should play a part?


    1. Do you mean that “re-tweet” in the twitter is also a kind of “steal” ideas? However, I think re-tweet is a tool of spreading information. People will know which messages are originally from the guy, and which are copyed from others. Also, many big companies or PR campaigns even wil compete for the amount of re-tweet. Some re-tweet some messages not because they want to use it as their own opinion, it just represents that they agree with it, or appriciate the content, or something else. Sometimes, they will also give their opinion about the messages through the re-tweet function. It will make other people know the whole matter and can compare the ideas directly. I think, nowadays, re-tweet funciton has become an effective promotional tool, and the method itself is a creative idea.


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