While working on one of my very first projects straight out of university, I was quite unsettled to see that the company who’s app we were designing’s logo has been plagiarised off the internet. I do not yet know whether the clients themselves adapted the logo design, or whether they paid a professional designer, the point is the logo was plagiarised.

Plagiarism is when a person uses work that has been created by another person and does not acknowledge the crediting source, meaning they use the design/image/artwork as their own. I have heard many people say that there is a very thin line between plagiarism and inspiration. According to Creativesandbusiness (2016), one is allowed to copy 30% of another person’s artwork. A problem that may derive from that, is that the person can just continue copying the whole artwork until there is only a 30% difference between the two. Any artist or designer is protected by all the copy write laws, but how will I know if a person for instance in Mexico plagiarised my work?

Many ethical considerations come into the fore when a designer plagiarises especially while designing for an up and coming company. It is now easier than ever to plagiarise because of the availability of Internet. Design today is characterised by the digital revolution of the information age. Designers are constantly online looking for inspiration to create designs, but where exactly do we cross the very thin line between inspiration, and plagiarism? Below is an example of plagiarism, the design lacks originality and is a great example of shallow learning. The first image is the original, and the second one is the plagiarised artwork:


https://za.pinterest.com/pin/404620347743948516/ .      https://ujfadagraphicdesign.carbonmade.com/projects/5943201

Very often designers ‘store’ images in their brain while looking for inspiration and may later ‘pull out’ the reference images and use it in their designs. Unintentional plagiarism is also an issue but how does one go about to address it? We build up a visual vocabulary as designers and our minds are filled with designs of other people’s work, how do we make our work our own? With millions of designers all over the world, there is no such thing as creativity anymore. Designers can make use of free stock image sites, but often its not appropriate to use such designs for work.

There are various reasons why people plagiarise in design, mainly poor time management, lack of creativity, lack in confidence, no real interest in what they are doing, and even bigger factors could play a role such as how the person was raised.

After doing careful research on the topic of plagiarism in a design context, I noticed that the stem of plagiarism could begin as early as their tertiary education. If a design student plagiarised throughout their university years, it effects the value chain as soon as they enter a work environment where designs are needed on demand. There are various rules/guidelines/processes in place at universities to potentially prevent and mitigate against plagiarism, but it will still not solve the wicked problem which so many institutions and companies are faced with. There is no real way to stop plagiarism, but there are other methods that can be used to potentially prevent plagiarism. After looking into the topic, I came to a conclusion where implementing deep learning (no, not that deep learning). Deep learning in an educational sense, should be implemented from the start of a designer’s education. Deep learning in an educational environment results in a student that has a better understanding of what and who they are designing for. Stricter guidelines need to be implemented, more proof of their creative processes should be presented, and students need be exposed to ‘real life’ situations such as real work environments. The only problem that might derive from this is that creative work might be limited, and after the student graduates, it might be difficult for them to adapt in a high pressure environment.

Plagiarism is unfortunately a problem that could potentially never be stopped, and it is up to good design ethics and for designers to make conscious decisions about which design routes to follow.

But enough about plagiarism in design, what about plagiarism in code? The thought has never crossed my mind until I recently attended a conference where previous developers brought up the topic. As I stated earlier, it is now, more than ever, easier to plagiarise because of the digital revolution and the ‘copy paste’ culture that we have adapted. As I understand there is also a very thin line between plagiarism and just copy and pasting another person’s code. Code is out there, all over the web for developers to use, share and distribute freely. Developers are open to share their knowledge and what may also be seen as their intellectual property. Code can be copied from various platforms unless there has been specified that the code is licensed. If a person is willingly giving their code away and sharing it freely, it could technically not count as plagiarism. An interesting fact that I read online was “Plagiarism is not the same as copyright infringement. Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as your own. It is possible to commit copyright infringement without plagiarizing” (https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/a/80218).” If at any stage developers feel that they want to avoid plagiarism, they should acknowledge their accrediting source. In a work environment it is also important to not plagiarise another work member’s code.

Strategies on how to prevent plagiarism: 

  • come to the fore when you see something
  • have educational talks on what exactly involves plagiarism
  • perhaps have a seminar with employees on the topic
  • acknowledge sources where you can
  • do more research on the topic
  • if you feel that you are plagiarising, ask for opinions on how to steer into a different direction

So its simple, there are various ways to prevent plagiarism in design and development, accrediting the original source is a very important. And plagiarising some else’s hard work , just sucks. Rather adapt, appropriate or choose a different route. But please, don’t plagiarise 🙂