Yesterday a DMCA takedown notice against Designmodo, filed by LayerVault, caused quite a shitstorm in the web design community. Designmodo’s free user interface kit “Flat UI”, which was available on Github and had become popular quickly, bears obvious similarities in colors, shapes and illustration style to Layervault’s visual language.
The take down notice, which made the Github repository unavailable immediately, upset a bunch of people who had already started using the UI Kit. People were quick in calling LayerVault out for being whiny and betraying the idea of open source, and of course eventually someone yelled boycott.
LayerVault’s takedown notice, which resulted in outrage on Hacker News and Twitter, was not a smart move, and seems ill-considered for a company that so far had been notorious for driving open and fruitful discussions in the design community. They are, after all, building a version control software: A tool for collaboration.
Still I can’t get behind the sympathy that Designmodo gets from the community. While I find it plain wrong to make use of DMCA here, Designmodo are not exactly on a noble mission either. It is obvious that their designer(s) got really familiar with LayerVault’s visual design, and, after minor adjustments and additions, published it to promote their business, which is selling design kits. Yes, the current flat trend in web design (largely driven by LayerVault) is by nature minimalist and flat designs are likely to look alike. But the similarities between Designmodo’s Flat UI and LayerVault are far beyond what happens accidentally.
Making design assets – the most simple and least intellectual part of design – available to the community is great. But if you do so, at least nod your head to the source of inspiration if it is such an obvious one as in this case. Designmodo doesn’t seem to show any interest in making the sources of their inspiration (or even the name of their designers) transparent. This unapologetic behavior and the following discussion is anything but encouraging for designers to engage in the open source community. Comments like the following don’t create a culture to which designers feel invited to contribute to:
Am I the only one here who sees nothing wrong with copying icons? Layer Vault doesn’t own the things they freely display for others to imitate [Source]
It’s not even a rip-off. The basic pattern for the icons is insanely generic, and the execution is clearly different. The color scheme is a very common one. It bears a resemblance as much as one black leather shoe bears a resemblance to another black leather shoe [Source]
The insensibility Layervault showed by messing with copyright infringement claims is sad. But the ignorance towards the thought and labour behind visual design work, such as creating color palettes, shapes, and a distinct visual language, is even worse. This sounds all too similar to the stubborn museum visitor, looking at a Rothko painting, claiming “My five year old could do that”.