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I'm making an Android game with a UI similar to Facebook Messenger Android app. I didn't re-create all the UI elements, but users will surely know it looks like Messenger since the game is about making right choices on what to reply to get the good story ending.

Lately, I've read articles about having some developers' apps removed from Google Play because of "Violation of the intellectual property and impersonation or deceptive behavior provisions of the Content Policy." Some apps had icons pretty similar to other apps' icons, but how about UI? Is there a possibility that my app would get removed too?

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It will help if you can share image of what is it that you want to copy and how it will turn out finally in your app. – gurvinder372 Jan 4 at 8:07
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I believe (but am not a lawyer) that the "impersonation or deceptive behavior provisions" clause is primarily to prevent apps that pretend to be official versions of well-known apps (while probably adding undesirable features). What sounds like a text-adventure app is not "pretending to be Messenger", just using a similar interface. – TripeHound Jan 4 at 12:45
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"Violation of the intellectual property and impersonation or deceptive behavior provisions of the Content Policy" means "I made a deceptively-similar look-alike clone of Angry Birds and called it 'Very Angry Birds.'" It means that a reasonable person might confuse it for Angry Birds. – Robert Harvey Jan 4 at 16:25
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@bdsl in some ways, it's complicated, in other ways, it's incredibly simple: If someone feels you are infringing, they complain (either via informal methods such as 'report a violation' process in an app store, or formally via a lawsuit). – DA01 Jan 4 at 16:53
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This is a law.SE question. – Midas Jan 4 at 19:36

It's ok, and it's good!


Why? because it creates consistency and builds and reinforces UI patterns for users.
Imagine if every other UI of each app was very different. they user would need to re-familiarize themselves whenever they switch between apps.

But..

at the same time copying UIs and not thinking about how these can be improved (and try come up with the next widely used UI pattern) is going to stagnate your personal growth as a UI designer.

So if someone copies your design, know that...
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
Charles Caleb Colton

Refer to

Google material design guidelines

IOS HCI Guide

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Still, you should be sure you don't copy everything. You do not want to make a rip-off. – quadronom Jan 4 at 15:48
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A good method is always to ask the right questions. E.g. what does the user expect to happen? You can test this by giving the app to friend and saying what he should try to do. – quadronom Jan 4 at 15:56
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No, re-using other people's icons is not the same as creating consistency. UI-Patterns are not the same as Graphic Resources. – KMSTR Jan 4 at 16:10

Even if it is a messenger implementation which is already in place from WhatsApp, Facebook to even LinkedIn, each of those bring about certain aspect which is unique in their implementation. The patterns are open to be reused, like putting the chats chronologically, showing some sort of speech bubbles for showing the messages, however, the degree of freedom ends there.

I would advise to have a look at various types of messenger implementations and see how they differentiate themselves from the competition, what unique each provides considering the target audience and how better can you game make a UI which will be good for a game.

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Simple & straight forward answer is NO.

Having said NO I would also say - "Only if you are not using any patented design"

There’s a huge difference between taking inspiration & copying. Inspiration usually takes place when you are trying to solve a problem & you get stuck at certain point. That's when you look for inspiration with similar problems solved by other designers such as UI patterns, seamless process etc. But one should always take ideas & not just blindly copy them.

As a matter of fact there’s no such things called perfect UX strategy or perfect design solution for any products, otherwise all products will look same and everyone will follow them in general. Each product has a unique user base or target audience whose expectations & task solving abilities are different & they may not fall under same strategy, that's where inspirations can boost your creativity & helps you solve the problem in a better & meaningful way.

Sometime its ok just follow blindly in order to make sure that your are not wasting your time on something that has already been solved, tried & tested by others. But if you smartly add your personal twists to the already existed solutions it may create another benchmark for others. That's how you learn & become a good designer.

Hope this is helpful!

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Virtually every UX already has a patent that it conflicts with. The practical result is that you have no idea if you've crossed an invisible line until someone complains. For the person writing a first or second app, asking them to steer clear of a hypothetical land covered in explosive mines would entail that no one ever write anything. – msw Jan 4 at 11:42

It's also worth noting that if your game is obviously parodying the messenger app it may well fall under fair use... If the central conceit of the game is that you are using messenger to interact with fictional people, then having it look very similar to the program you are parodying is legitimate art!

It's worth noting you'll have a stronger case if it's obvious to the users that they are not actually using the messenger app when they are playing your game but that it's intended to look like the messenger app. One good possibility to do this is to meld a few ideas from different social media apps together... If it's a mashup of Twitter and Facebook it could well fit the theme of your game!

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Copyright (in this case, it'd specifically be about Trade Dress) is a legal concept and not easily answered definitively outside a courtroom.

In general, however, as stated previously, copying the overall pattern of a UI is done all the time. In fact, it's a necessity to improve usability.

But note that the UI pattern can be the same while the visual design differs. An example would be Mac's trash can vs. Windows's recycle bin. It's the exact same pattern, but represented differently.

All that said, there's absolutely nothing stopping any company that feels you are infringing upon their property to sue you. In fact, that the big guys (Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft, etc.) are constantly suing each other. Usually over patent infringement, but trade dress and copyright is often in the mix as well.

Regarding your specific question, I'd suggest: sure, copy the overall UI patterns that already exist to make it a familiar in-game experience. Maybe redraw the UI icons so it's not an exact match visually, though.

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Yes (mostly).

Do you think that the UI in Facebook messenger is entirely novel? I am confident that almost every element on there was borrowed from ICQ, MSN Messenger, Skype, or one of the countless other messenger apps that preceded it.

UI trends move much faster than law, and I would say that it would be dangerous for us designers/developers to embrace the notion that a select few can hold back the creative wave generated by millions of people.

As you become more involved with creative communities, you'll learn that there is a blurry line that is drawn around copying. We all (knowingly or unknowingly) use other people's work as inspiration, but it has to be within reason. Sometimes a derivative work will be praised (particularly if it improves upon the original), and other times it will be labeled as stolen. This is so difficult to quantify that every incident has be dealt with on a case-by-case basis (although it is usually pretty clear when it is stolen). A clear case to avoid would be copying a novel feature and claiming that only your app does it. It also exacerbates the problem when you and the original design are in a competing space.

I would be careful around features like Facebook Messengers pop-up chat heads, as I haven't seen those anywhere else (yet). That might warrant a little research on your end.

The bottom line is that creators understand that we all prop each other up and that we should be respectful of other people's hard work. If possible, be transparent around what you are using as inspiration and talk with the original author -- you'd be surprised how many people will be grateful that you appreciate their work.

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As much as I feel this is a legal question that is not entirely relevant here, it's a good question from the UX standpoint.

I think not, copying other app's UI in it's entirety or even up to 80% is not okay.

Apps' UIs are solutions that are resolving a complex problem consisting of a certain user need and a business opportunity. So if you are copying some app's UI, you either have a different problem and thus you are adopting an irrelevant solution to your problem, or you have the same problem and thus you are trying to release a product into the same exactly market locus as the original app, which makes your app redundant.

In your particular case, your app's raison d'etre is specific, it's entertainment, and it's different from the original app's purpose that revolves around communication.

So if I were you, I would make sure UI reflects the entertainment purpose and is recognizable and similar while being different and "game-y".

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