Why You May Not be Allowed to Edit a Design You Purchased

I got someone to do my blog makeover, before I started getting into web design, and although I’m not really good (yet!), I wanted to do another blog makeover, slightly changing their design and changing their coding. (Basically using their coding as a template.)

1. Is that legal?
2. Would I be stepping on their toes if I did that?
3. If I did change their coding, how would I give them the appropriate credit on the blog?

Anonymous

Hiya! This can vary from designer to designer. It depends on what kind of rights/license you have after purchasing the design. For example:

When you purchase a custom design from someone, it is common that you do not get the copyrights to the design; they belong to the designer. Instead, you get a license to use and display the design. However, there’s often a clause in the terms/contract that says something like:

You do not have the right to modify, change, or edit the design files.

This means you cannot edit or change the core design files. So using the code as a template and changing the graphics would be in violation of those terms and the designer could sue you if they wanted.

Designers usually put this clause in there because if they didn’t, they would create a work, put it in their portfolio, then the client may choose to edit it and royally screw it up, but the designer’s name would be at the bottom and it would be bad publicity for the designer! It would look like the designer is the one who screwed it up.

However, each designer has different terms, so the best way to find out would be to email them directly and ask. Some designers may be perfectly okay with it.

If you are able to do it, the best way to give credit would be in the footer and/or sidebar. You could add a snippet that says:

Graphics by me, coding by [original designer]

Be sure to include a link to their website as well!

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I'm a 28 year old California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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11 comments

    1. I personally don’t mind if people edit my designs. Although I understand why some designers do it, I don’t like the idea that you pay for something but then you’re not allowed to touch it, you know?

      However, if the client were to edit the design and then mess up the functionality and want help fixing it, that’s something I’d charge extra for since they went digging around and broke something.

  1. I hadn’t thought about this. I guess I figure they if/when I decide to shell out the money to have someone do my website for me, I’m going to make sure I’m perfectly happy so that there’s no reason for me to mess with it. Although I can see wanting a change after a few years… But then I’d probably ask them to redo it. If I managed to have an uber professional design job done, I’d be too afraid of ruining it with my amateurish coding lol!

    Berls @ Fantasy is More Fun recently posted: Never to Sleep by Rachel Vincent | Short Review
    1. Yep that is an excellent point. Most people probably have no interest in changing things around, or if they do, then they’d hire the original designer again. 🙂

  2. I’ve never thought of this from the stand point of the designer and portfolio and it makes perfect sense.

    Because of the amount of money a good designer costs, (after all you do pay for what you get) I wouldn’t want to go monkeying around in the design. I want to get it right the first time and paying a little extra to do so isn’t a big deal. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this. I didn’t even know that it was a thing.

    Stephanie @ Once Upon a Chapter recently posted: Reading This Week {10}
  3. I didn’t even know it was legal to *forbid* a client to modify your work for their personal use or any use you sold your work to them for.

    For sure, I wouldn’t let my clients modify and redistribute our work (the problem, as you said, is about copyright), but I don’t see why I wouldn’t let them modify it. It’s theirs. They bought it from me. They can get comfy and do whatever they want, even put their feet on the coffee table.
    If it gets really too awful, I might want to remove the “Provided by [me]” so it doesn’t affect my company image, but that’s all.

    Angélique recently posted: Deadroads by Robin Riopelle
    1. Well the idea is that unless explicitly stated otherwise, the designer owns the copyright. You cannot take, use, and display a copyrighted image from Google without permission, so the same applies to any design you purchase. You’re obviously given a license to use and display the design, but unless stated otherwise you can’t edit it anymore than you can edit and use a random Google graphic.

      But yes, I agree with you. I personally don’t mind my clients editing the work. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t like the idea of paying for something and then not being allowed to touch it.

  4. I never knew about this, but thanks for sharing! I’m currently using a heavily edited version of the Twenty Twelve theme by Automattic, so I’m hoping that they allow modification and changes of the design files because I never saw a clause like that anywhere while I was changing everything. >.< I get what those designers mean to do, but maybe they shouldn't make their rules so strict. One of the main reasons why people buy themes is so that they can edit them to their liking — not to be restricted by them.

    1. The Twenty Twelve theme is free and licensed under GPL so you are allowed to edit it. 🙂 It’s also usually assumed that you can edit any pre-made themes (even if you purchase them). This post really only applies to when you buy a custom theme from a designer. And in that instance, you wouldn’t buy a custom theme so you can edit it yourself. You usually buy a custom one so the designer can make it 100% to your liking.

      But pre-made themes and free themes can be edited however you want (usually).

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