I am currently at my third job as a Graphic designer and have been in the field for about 5 years. My first company moved to the other side of the country, so I couldn't stay there. My second job was freelancing, however I prefer to work as a team player so I looked for a job; my current one.

I am generally happy at the place, the salary is ok, my colleagues are nice, it's a large, fast growing international company. All well, you'd think.

However, on a weekly basis I'm being asked to copy other work/websites. At first I assumed they meant to use it as inspiration but they want to literally copy it. Example;

My company colors are yellow and green and we use a design style A. Company X uses purple and blue and uses design style B. My boss literally wants me to copy design style B, in purple and blue, even though that is nothing close to our style guide and I repeatedly tried to convince him it doesn't even work in our branch, with examples and even proof in numbers through testing.

Is this something that happens often in larger companies? I don't want to lay off a job this soon (1 year) but I feel very uncomfortable stealing other people's work and creating things I feel don't work. Is it bad for my resume to have all these short jobs?

8 Answers 8


Obviously this has been answered multiple times already... But I have to put in my two cents.

Firstly, has anyone mentioned copyright infringement? This link to Wikipedia denotes that copyright infringement is

creating or distributing a "copy" of a protected work that is "substantially similar" to the original version.

You have not only a moral, but also legal obligation to refuse your boss' request. God forbid, you could potentially be liable for recreating someone else's design.

Morally... well, you already know how you feel about it. And good for you, for bringing this to light. If your boss has a problem with your angst regarding his request, why don't you just show them this thread? I'd love to answer a few of their questions to this point.

Good luck.


Sometimes moving from job to job is a sign that you are always looking for the next challenge, the next bigger thing and you want to advance quickly up the chain.

You may lose an opportunity where they are looking for someone incredibly stable and loyal but that will be rare. Folks that move within a company but are still at a single company just have the luxury of working for a large company. Advancing in a single company every year is still quitting the old job and taking a new job.

Ethical issues build up. If it is possible research the next company, network with friends and find a place that you'll be challenged, grow, and be happy and rewarded. If you can don't compromise and find a new job. Your next job is waiting for you.


Ultimately, it's your job to do what you are told. If you don't like what you are told to do, find a new job.

If you are concerned about constant employment changes on a resume.. have a new job before you quit your current job so there's no gap in employment. Then it's merely a matter of you finding better opportunities... not being a troublesome employee. But really after a year at a company it's not going to reflect that poorly upon you. If it was a few month, then a gap, then a few months... that's more troubling to employers.

  • I have a hard time with this answer. It's a person's job to do what they are told, but only within the law. Copying another company's intellectual property is not legal. Company X doesn't even have to post a copyright notice on their site; copyright protection is automatic (at least in the U.S.) .If my boss tells me to rob a bank, I don't think I'm going to avoid prosecution with the excuse, "It's my job to do what I'm told to do." Mar 30, 2017 at 18:47
  • 1
    While I wholeheartedly agree with you @RandallStewart Being pointed to a web page and then directed to copy the aesthetics may not be infringement. Given the amount of information provided in the question, it's difficult to say. Now if you are viewing source and copy/pasting markup, clearly it is. But just saying "I like how this looks... copy that design" is ethically poor yes, but may not be direct infringement. And robbing a bank is a crime, copyright infringement is a civil matter, not a crime - no real comparison. You can't copyright an idea, only how the idea is implemented.
    – Scott
    Mar 30, 2017 at 21:36

Clearly you have 2 options and the choice is yours, you're not going to wash away your sins by confessing here :) In no particular order:

  • quit the job and go freelance or find a better job where you can really show off your skills
  • keep the job and the 'ok' salary, accept it for what it is. in reality not all designers will end up writing books and doing ted talks. ultimately its a job, just like washing cars. there's a zillion cars out there, can you wash each one differently? if you can, then you don't need a boss

To answer first question: large companies (or companies with guidebooks and manuals) try not only to be as close as possible to guidelines (with few exceptions for unforeseen needs) but also try to not look like competition.
Your boss, IMHO, is telling you and showing customers that your company is worse than your competition. Your website will look like a cheap knockoff.

If you have chance I would go to your boss boss, explain the situation, advise solutions, procedures and if that won't work I would think about leaving. What's worse that can happen? You already thinking about switching the job. Your initiative can give you better job, better salary and maybe more work.

And to answer second question: in graphic field, short jobs are not uncommon. graphic designers are often hired to do defined task and when they are done they leave. And your job look like it hit the wall. There's nothing to do for a graphic designer as they need more of a "graphic program operator".


Late to the party but want to relay my own experiences:

Several times I have been asked to do this. The first time, company got in trouble. The second time, the other company got in trouble and blamed me. If I didn't have a backup of all the emails I would have been in trouble. I followed up every conversation with:

"Just confirming: you want me to reproduce this website exactly, and as stated in the meeting said I should re-use the code? As I am stating the code can't be reused and you accept legal responsibility for copyright. I know you said that anything on the Internet is fair game but I just want to confirm.

Can you confirm you understand both?

1) You are aware of copyright law and have instructed me it is okay to copy a website and you have permission to do so.

2) You understand that I can't drag and drop assets from a website to > another in a matter of seconds (we can have a sitdown and go over this)."

They begrudgingly said yes to both, followed with

"hahaha you dorks crack me up. Just do what I say okay?"

They clearly didn't care, just were grumpy about reality not being easy.

I wanted to make sure they understood that both not only is it against the law to copy websites, you can't just drag a slider from one website onto a crappy WordPress blog and have it work and use the images. Point 2) was harder and never understood and I walked away when I had done enough to pay rent.

Had I not done that, they would have pegged everything on me. Their legal team insisted they had no design direction (despite 10-30 daily emails to suggest otherwise).

I had also posted screenshots of the emails on a private Twitter account so they were time stamped and retained recordings of our Google hangouts just in case.

Paranoid? Hell yeah. Am I glad I did it? Of course!

Unless you are really desperate for cash, as I was at the time, leave a client or employer who insists on copying something wholesale as they likely have no scruples— and probably won't even pay you remotely on time without a fight! They think they know better and rules/laws don't apply to them.

One other time before that I was asked to copy something was a logo for a supplement company that sold products to post-menopausal women. The person who oversaw the project saw the Nine Inch Nails logo in the newspaper and thought: "that's it, that's the logo we need to sell stuff to women in their 50's with hot flashes! So neat, a N, an I, and a backwards N!" as the company's name as an initialism was NIN. Luckily, the client was so furious at seeing NI(backwards)N and heard her reasoning it was dropped. Funny in retrospect. I just got shivers thinking of how I was a breath away from being thrown under the bus.

I've had clients want to copy things wholesale and I fire them. Again the issue is they think they are helping you and doing half the work, like showing a photo of the steak you want means it will be half-price at the steakhouse because you have shown them the steak and how it looks. People of the same mindset have no issues blaming you if it blows up in their face. Just get out.


As a direct answer to your immediate question, I'm with Scott. However, even after your explanation, I'm not sure whether what you describe actually counts as plagiarism propre. Half of your paragraph relating to this is about you disagreeing with his branding decisions.

That is, assuming what he wants is legal and you just think it's immoral.

With current web design being what it is, colour, font and the style and subjects of the photos employed are basically all that differentiate many, many websites. There are also many exceptions, but in all cases I can think of right now, simply copying these would in fact constitute copyright infringement.

Assuming that it's not, maybe your boss is aware of it and somewhat cynical about it? And your problem with this is that you don't get to show your creativity?

(That's a very legitimate concern, but it's essentially a concern whether you like this job.)

I usually ask a customer to show me three websites he or she likes. Then I try to come up with something that balances 1) what he likes, 2) what he (in my estimation) needs and 3) my desire to stand out. The latter is because I'm working freelance and even so the client's needs ultimately take precedence. And showing off what an excellent designer they can afford is not always what they need, unfortunately.

If I did not and my boss would tell me: "We need a website like this. Let's talk font, colour and photos." Then, assuming he or she points to a more or less typical website and not a very unique design. I'd just do it.


I don't know how much relevant my answer may seem to you but sincerely one should never compromise with ethics and moral values. Since you are uncomfortable with copying other's works (of course ! you should be), this shows that your conscience is not really for it. And if your conscience is not agreeing for a particular job, it should be avoided because conscience is the voice of God. You may find losing the job at this point inconvenient but believe me, you will be rewarded manifold in the higher planes. I have known people who have faced similar issues as yours and those who have followed their conscience have been amply rewarded. All the best.

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