5 Website Copyrights Everyone Must Know

5 Website Copyrights Everyone Must Know

No matter how much you know about copyrights, there are still grey areas where definitions become hard to pinpoint. This is why it can be hard to clearly distinguish between concepts like ‘plagiarism’ and ‘homage’ or ‘referencing’ and ‘copying’. Similarly, infringing and noninfringing use of copyrighted material is often very muddled too.


This article is for you if you design your own website.
Even if your site was designed by a commissioned designer,
this knowledge is great for you to understand copyright issues.


When it comes to web designs, it is natural and even expected to incorporate elements from other sites and other creations. You would be inefficient not to do so, as there are only a small handful of UX (user experience) elements and layouts that make the most practical parts of almost all web design theories. You might take what you like from other websites and incorporate it to your own. You may even notice that a lot of websites seem to have very similar looking structures.

But, at what point in referencing other web layouts does it become outright copying?


Web design is very much like writing an essay, you may use the same common phrases, but the finished product has to be unique.

As such, it is important to understand the risks and hazards when it comes to copyrights involving web design. The five most common copyright questions in web designs are:

1.Can I own the copyrights if I use a website template?

Most sites today are built on top of a platform of some variety or another, be it WordPress, Squarespace or some type of coding software. Of course, a website you built using a template will resemble thousands of other websites across the internet. The source code will be the same, and if you changed nothing major in the layout, the difference would only be in the images and colours used. In this case, it would be difficult to claim copyright ownership. Likewise, it would also be hard to prove someone else deliberately copied your designs unless the perpetrator used things like logos, trademarks, or plagiarized content.

However, if you pay a premium to own a domain or a website, then the copyright ownership would be stated in the platform licensing terms and conditions. Take a moment to read thorough the license and understand what you’re really paying for. Always remember to follow those terms closely. Developers are constantly becoming savvier about tracking down those who violate their licenses.

If you have a web designer, be sure they are reputable and ethical. Some designers use the same template they’ve purchased on multiple clients in order to make a fast buck.


Templates make a great starting point and inspiration generator; however, adapt it to reflect your brand image.

2.Can I copy the source code from another website?

If you designed your web from scratch, you automatically own the copyrights of its source codes. It is considered an original work of authorship, even if it is created with the help of tools, and will enjoy copyright protection. Though you cannot copyright the overall look of the site, such as a general white background, you can protect the code that created that work. Thus, the legalities of copying the source code of a website that has been designed using your own code are pretty straightforward. The best way to avoid any issues over your source code is to create as much of it yourself as possible and limit any copying to only things that you could trivially reproduce but wanted to save time on.

By the same token, if another site copies just part or all of the source code of a site you have copyrights to, or if any of the elements of your custom website are reproduced on another site, then you might have a case for copyright infringement. (Note: copyrights in Malaysia are automatically granted upon conception, but can also be registered for a more solid protection).

If you hired a web designing agency to create a page for you, they would typically write a unique, custom code for each client. In saying that, you can expect them to crib some of their source code from their previous work. Rest assured, taking a portion of a page to get a table format or a few CSS elements from a stylesheet won’t raise any alarm. Only copying whole theme elements from another page likely constitutes copyright infringement.


Having a website is still a must in this day and age, and it is important to find a reliable and ethical designer.

3.Is it okay to use an image from the internet for my website?

Those who are just starting out and may not necessarily have the budget for high quality, original images. It becomes tempting to just download a professional image from search engines. The problem with this is that these images are – as a general rule – protected by copyrights (by default, unless stated otherwise). Using them as part of a website almost certainly constitutes an infringement.

In the past, it was easy to get away with this practice as photographers and artists have not had many resources for finding such infringements. Recently, Google has warned that detection tools have improved in quality and dropped in price, so more infringements are being detected.

However, there are ways to still use pictures from online. If you need to find free images that you can use legally, search from ‘royalty-free image’ websites such as Pexel and Unsplash. Another way is to filter your image searches with usage rights for ‘Creative commons licenses’ or ‘Commercial and other licenses’. If you insist on using an image that doesn’t fall into one of the two categories mentioned, check the terms of the licenses carefully and make sure you give credit where credit is due. Alternatively, pay a small price to use licensed stock photos from sites like Shutterstock.

Filter your image search with ‘Creative commons licenses’ or ‘Commercial and other licenses’ to use them for free.

4.What if I miss out on attributions while referring to other source codes?

For regular, non-professional web developers, you might run into a very common rookie mistake when using and publishing works based on open-source code. The mistake is forgetting to either retain the license information or failing to donate their modified code back to the General Public License (copyleft license used primarily for software). These GPL codes are used in many WordPress themes. If you create a modified work, such as making a WordPress theme a different colour, the new theme has to be licensed under the GPL.

Even web designers can risk such mistakes. In an attempt to keep the site clean, they may accidentally remove attribution lines in the code and files on the server that are required as part of the license. It is very important to get a trustworthy and experienced web designer for your company. Price is important, but is not everything. Professionalism is.


Open source is source code that is made freely available for possible modification and redistribution.

5.What happens if I accidentally leave dummy texts on a page?

Sometimes, you may temporarily copy and paste texts from another similar site to better imagine your final page, but it can pose a great copyright infringement risk. Even if the copy is just for testing purposes, it still constitutes an infringement. It may unintentionally harm the original authors if the search engines have detected your test site and bumped the original author’s site further down the Google search page. Even worse, you may have your test site mistaken for a spam blog.

Even web designers can make such mistakes. Web designing is complicated and requires a lot of checking and rechecking. Generally speaking, it is best to either use content from your own site if possible, or true Lorem Ipsum text if you don’t have any. Placeholder texts, more commonly known as Lorem Ipsum, was once used in the printing industry to demonstrate an example of what a document might look like with texts on it. Today, many web designers continue to use it to visualize websites.

In the end, it is important to keep copyright infringement in mind when designing websites and services. Being aware of these issues will help you ask good questions to your web designers so they do not pass along an infringing site to you, even by accident.


Even though copyright protections are automatically granted to any creative work in Malaysia – including web designs – it is important to know your rights. For added security, consider a copyright registration in Malaysia. For very minimal time and money, you can deter copyright infringement issues in the future.