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So, the organisation I work in use Google Apps for our email, calendars and docs. The staff have gradually got used to using it and are now comfortable with the UI.

I've been asked to develop a custom CRM for them, and have it integrated with Google Apps. Programming wise, I'll be using the API's to integrate, however they have asked me to 'copy' or use the Google Apps UI for the CRM - so that the staff will adopt the system easier.

Is this okay, legal, ethical? I'm a UI designer and could design a completely custom design, but they are keen to keep the visual style.

Where do I stand on this?

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Related: answers.onstartups.com/questions/5129/… –  ghoppe Feb 3 '11 at 15:58
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3 Answers 3

Of course it's okay, legal AND ethical. The only of those that could possibly be brought into question even is legality, and you can't patent the way something looks. You can only patent specific process flows, and I'm 100% positive Google hasn't even done that, since the processes for those apps is essentially ubiquitous.

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But "the way something looks" does fall under copyright. –  Kris Feb 7 '11 at 9:25
    
@Kris - not quite. If I copy your website exactly - down to the content and graphics - then it falls under copyright law. If I am copying your layout and even functionality, it does not. –  Charles Boyung Feb 7 '11 at 14:08
    
If it is just the layout, then yes, you are probably fine, but if it is layout and graphics (but different content) then you are probably violating copyright. –  Kris Feb 7 '11 at 17:31
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Copying the UI layout should be just fine. The original versions of OpenOffice/StarOffice were a pretty close replica of MS Office's then-current UI layout.

I would say copying the visual style or chrome is a little murkier. Apple gets uptight when people copy their Aqua theme. Make sure your software can be easily distinguished from software it's replacing (IANAL).

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Making a site that is "inspired by" another site is ok.

Using any actual assets from the other site (images, icons, logos, etc.) is only ok if you got permission from the other site.

Recreating elements that are very similar but not exactly the same can be fine or can get you sued, depending on who and what you copied.

IANAL

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