Last week I got into a debate with the programmers whether it is ethical to view and analyze competitor's public web applications and 'borrow' web design and graphics ideas. I was not talking about stealing ideas the way Microsoft has done it when they ripped off the tabbed browsing feature from Mozilla. I merely suggested that we could look at the example and come up with our own design based on what we have analyzed.
We have been scrambling for ideas on how to design our situation display part of the application. We don't have web design or human factor specialists on the team. Even though some of us have worked on or seen a web situation display product we have not produced one yet as a team.
So I did not think it was a big deal. I am of the belief that 'borrowing' ideas is not a copyright violation.
Various businesses and people do it all the time whether it comes to writing, car manufacturing, web and fashion design or house remodeling. I borrowed the idea of exercising dogs on a treadmill from Cesar Millan's 'Dog Whisperer' show. (So what?)
I realize that the line between borrowing ideas and expression can be blurred. Copyright protects expression. I think it is wrong to use someone else's hard work for personal or commercial gain. However, given the time and budget constraints we should come up with something that is nice-looking, intuitive and familiar to the end users.
I am curious to know whether colleagues have dealt with similar issues and what they think about it.