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2 Ways to (Legally) Copy a Website

Philip Westfall, February 28, 2022

Creating a website is one of those tasks that is often approached with great enthusiasm.. until it’s time to actually start.

For a web designer, staring at a blank screen can be just as daunting as any writer staring at a blank page.

Seeking inspiration, you’ll often fire up your browser and start surfing the web, scrolling down page after page, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Once it does, what do you do? When you finally stumble upon a site you love, how do you create a comparable masterpiece, without stepping on anyone’s toes?

There are a couple of ways to pay homage to your “muse”, without getting stuck in a sticky copyright spot.

Copying the files

While it may seem simple to just copy the HTML and CSS that your browser downloaded and modify it to suit your needs, it may end up being more trouble than it's worth. Capturing all of the files could involve hours of tracing through the header of the page, or trying to save every call on the network tab of your developer tools.

There are, of course, tools you can use to simplify this process.

Applications like HTTrack give users the ability to download entire websites, mirroring the directory structure, files, and images that would be present on the server. You can then view the code and update your own as desired. This allows you to view the actual HTML and CSS used by the site you wish to copy, before testing locally and offline. This is the closest way to actually “copy” a website.

However, there are a couple of downsides to this method.

Many websites – especially those that have sophisticated CSS or any kind of javascript driving their user experience – will most likely minimize and uglify their code. This means that the whitespace and variable names that make the code readable by humans have been stripped out, rendering the code a jumble of letters and numbers that would give even the most experienced web developer a headache, should he or she attempt to read it.

There are tools to "un-minify" the code, but successfully doing so requires at least a basic working knowledge of CSS rules and javascript.

When copying the actual code in this manner, you also have to be more careful to avoid making a direct copy, which could put you in violation of copyright. Typically, as long as the content is unique and some changes were made to fit your needs, you’ll be safe. However, this small risk is something to be aware of, if you use this method.

Copying the design

Another means by which you can draw inspiration from the work of another designer is using a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) website creator.

Designers see the finished product of other designers and then let that work inspire, as they create their own. If you’re not an expert web developer who is able to see the website and understand how it came to be, these applications give you the tools to do it yourself.

Website builders like Pagecloud give their users the ability to create sites with a drag and drop interfaces. In this way, you can mirror the page you like, while the generated code underneath is unique. Working with your page editor on one side of your screen, with the page you’re trying to emulate on the other, you can design your page, based on any page you like.

You can sign up for a Pagecloud and experience the WYSIWYG editor along with many other web design features. 

The best part about site builders is that they allow inexperienced users to really stretch, creatively speaking.

Even if you don't know how to write CSS and JavaScript, you can use the WYSIWYG interface to try out new things, once you have the basics created. You may decide to build on or expand on what was on the site you wanted to copy in the first place, ending up with something uniquely yours.

When starting out, many people don’t understand the importance of web design and its impact on SEO. Once they do, they realize it can be very difficult work.

Using an existing website as a template is not only a tried-and-true method that is used quite often, but it’s also a good way to start when creating your own. After all, how you create your design isn’t as important as the design itself, as that’s what ultimately reaches (and hopefully converts) your potential customers.

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Written by

Philip Westfall

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