June 16, 2000
11:27 AM   Subscribe

I like this Web site but its design is just a tad too similar to this one.
posted by tranquileye (33 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I just sent an email to webmaster@allaire.com and cc'd Murray W. Kester (the webmaster of the NPD site). They can talk it out, I'm sure.
posted by Calebos at 12:15 PM on June 16, 2000

heheh. Yep. That's pretty blatant. I didn't even have to click on the second link to notice.
posted by Nyarlathotep at 12:33 PM on June 16, 2000

On a similar note, I think this new delivery service looks way too much like Our Favorite Online Bookstore (link omitted), unless Bezos has decided he needs a new side project to waste money.
posted by harmful at 12:48 PM on June 16, 2000

I think Allaire did it better... :-)

Hopefully, Allaire's webmaster will be flattered, rather than pissed off.
posted by baylink at 12:51 PM on June 16, 2000

I just got a response back from Mr. Kester. He also feels that Allaire will be flattered more then anything else. He's so sure of it, in fact, that he's already changed the header graphic on the site so that the similarity is less so. I'm glad I grabbed a screenshot earlier and sent it along with my email to Allaire.

Baylink, I don't think that any corporate site would be flattered by someone appropriating their site design outright. Try setting up "Baylink's Books" using Amazon's design and then send them an email. I'm sure they'll be very flattered.
posted by Calebos at 1:25 PM on June 16, 2000

Hi people, Murray Kester here webmaster/coder/webdesigner of NPD Central

Calebos, my site is a not-for-profit site, dedicated to diseminating information about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. NPD is a pernicious mental condition which causes a tremendous amount of suffering to families, children and society at large.

I can understand that you have a valid point that I did draw too much from Allaire's design which I have now rectified. My talents as a graphic artist are not as good as my Cold Fusion or ASP programming. However, to draw an analogy between my site and a so-called "Baylink's Books" is a complete distortion.

My site is not a profit-making enterprise. Hence the .org, not .com. In fact, it is quite the converse. It makes a significant loss each month. The online bookstore does not even cover 10% of the cost of hosting the site. But I keep it up for the benefit of the many people who write to me thanking me for the information I place there and for the mailing list/discussion forum I coded myself from scratch (unlike this one that you use for example).

I sincerely question your real motivation in taking a screen grab and emailing the Allaire corporation. If you really want to play the role of cyber-cop, I suggest you visit the Kiddie-porn or hate-sites that are truly immoral and illegal and do your best to shut them down, not my site which is a wonderful FREE support network (read the archives of my list) for many hundreds of people affected by this condition.

Take Care,

Murray Kester
posted by murray_kester at 2:31 PM on June 16, 2000

Mr. Kester,

We all respect that you have built a nice site using your own money to support people who need information and support w/r/t Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

However, no matter how noble your site is, you clearly borrowed the entire site design of Allaire when you made it. If you were unhappy with your own design skills, you had many other options besides stealing. There are free website kits available at desktoppublishing.com and elsewhere; there are many small web design companies and freelancers who do pro bono work for nonprofit agencies.

You obviously recognize that design has value, because you write that your talents as a graphic artist were not enough to make the site looked the way that you wanted it to. The answer is to find someone whose talents and skills will make the site look good to you-- not to copy the work that someone else did.

If Baylink stole Amazon's site design and created "Baylink's Library", where he supplied free information about books, paid to host the site himself, and didn't sell a thing-- he would STILL be guilty of stealing Amazon's site design. He would be in the wrong. And so are you. Allaire has every right to know that you pinched their site design.

Yes, we all think kiddie-porn and hate-sites are bad, and if any of us happened to come across a site where illegal activity (child pornography or death threats) were happening, we would take screenshots and contact the authorities-- just as one of our members did when he came across your theft.

Finally: you apparently didn't look around enough to realize that almost everyone here at Metafilter also runs their own website-- almost all of us pay out a lot of money for the privilege of giving our writing, art, time, resources, and effort away for free on our websites. Few of us have anything like a bookstore that recoups ANY of our costs. Many of us feel that the information we provide to the online community is valuable; many of us are unhappy with our graphic design skills and would love to lift the art and work of other, more talented individuals. But none of us do it, because we know it's wrong and we know it's illegal.

The fact that your site is free is no excuse. The fact that it's a good resource is no excuse. Many of us also run free sites that are good resources, and we manage not to steal from others.

Good luck in your negotiations with Allaire.
posted by wiremommy at 3:05 PM on June 16, 2000

Wow, this turn of events and consequent thread beats the hell out of the stock Metafilter posts of "Microsoft is evil" or "Napster is justified" or "Derek Powazek is a saint". Good job on nailing Mr. Kester.
posted by dhoyt at 3:10 PM on June 16, 2000

Wow. I'm astonished that anyone would care when a corporate design gets copied. And deliberately trying to get a non-profit site busted strikes as very weird.

Wiremommy: copying graphic files or code may be illegal (the case is less clear with code -- I've never heard of any legal ramifications with copying markup, though scripts are protected) but "stealing" a design certainly is not illegal. And I don't even think that, in itself, it is all that wrong (of course, deliberate attempts to impersonate or deceive are wrong -- clearly not the case here: there was no implication that it was Allaire's site and any argument that the look of the site implied Allaire's endorsement would be pretty tenuous).

Ever noticed that there are a lot of typefaces that look almost exactly the same? That's because type design, like furniture design, architecture, etc. are not protected from "copying" (as long as everything is recreated -- you can't steal someone else's metal, files, or plans; but you could create your own which for most purposes lead to identical products).

I've never heard of Murray Kester or NPD Central, but I think what he's doing is good. (Though I suggest that, if he actually did directly copy the bg gif, he create one himself.)

And Calebos: I'd second the suggestion that you take a look at your motives. Sure seems like a dick move to me.

I can't really understand why you two were so hostile here. Who gives a shit? I'd be surprised if Allaire does (no company I've ever worked for has pursued any action against people who've ripped off the designs of their sites).
posted by sylloge at 4:23 PM on June 16, 2000

If someone copied a design of my site, I would be beyond angry.

Even on a corporate site, there is some degree of creativity and/or originality present. There are features that are becoming increasingly standard in business sites, but there are many reasons that sites don't look the same. Differentiation and branding is very important, almost paramount, to a business. In that regard, a successful website becomes an integrated part of that company. It becomes wholly representative, and becomes affixed to that company; in fact, it acts as a big, hypertext-based servicemark.

Even though NPD Central is not in competition with Allaire in any way, I don't feel that discounts the gravity of the issue: NPD Central has a design that is substantially similar to Allaire's. The ethics of stealing a site's design can be argued (and probably will be, here). I personally find it repulsive - akin to someone taking a painting, adding a white brush stroke, and saying, "Here, it's mine".

NPD Central's status as a non-profit, in my mind, is irrelevant. The issue is not whether or not the site is doing something positive (I think we can agree that it is); the blatant copying of a design is at issue here.

If the design was conceived independently of Allaire's site, then it was a remarkable coincidence. If I were in the shoes of Allaire, I would hope that it's certainly the case - but, sadly, they can't take that chance.
posted by hijinx at 4:41 PM on June 16, 2000

Why am I so hostile? Go read K10K, an awesome design site created by two guys who have obviously put TONS of work into their site. Nearly every week, K10K links to someone who has stolen graphics and/or design elements from their site, without crediting them, without permission. I'm tired of seeing this, I'm tired of people thinking it's their god-given right to steal other peoples' work and pass it off as their own. They think that since the web is SO big, no one who sees their site will ever have seen the original they're ripping off, so they take whatever they like.

People DO devalue a design when they steal it. The whole value of design is the unique face it puts on your site, and people/companies pay a lot of money for that uniqueness. I can't believe I have to even explain why stealing graphics is wrong. Would you steal a painting and sign your own name to it?

And yes, it is illegal to copy creative work-- it may not be obvious because most cases are settled out of court. But in one case a photographer's work was copied by another photographer at an ad agency that didn't pay the original creator, or get his permission. The originator took the copycat to court and got a large cash award for damages. Find out more here.
Note, in this case, they didn't steal the originator's exact photo (it was a picture of a wheelchair)... they used a photocopy of it in a pitch, then they took their own photo that was exactly like it, and used their copy for free rather than paying the originator. That was found to be illegal in court and they had to pay the originator a lot more in damages than it would have cost to license the photo. Direct quote: "Using the second photographer's work... was a[n] infringement of the original photograph."

Design is more of a gray area, admittedly, because design online is limited and many sites duplicate elements of each other. But Mr. Kester didn't deny lifting the design from Allaire. (How could he? I mean, look at the two side-by-side... couldn't the guy at least have changed the colors around so that the resemblance would be less blatant?)

And he didn't ask their permission (or he wouldn't have cared about Calebos sending a screenshot to Allaire). Why not? All he'd have to do is email them. "I'm doing a nonprofit site and I was inspired by the look of Allaire when I designed it. It wound up looking a lot like your page, but I'm hoping you won't mind, since it's for a good cause and we're not competing or anything."

If he really thought that what he was doing was okay, Mr. Kester wouldn't be so cheesed that Allaire is going to find out about it.

I hope there're some designers on MeFi who can back me up on this. I hate to gripe at a guy with a nonprofit site, but if it was my design I'd be pissed off even if the website that was stealing from me was directly responsible for saving a thousand babies from being run over by lawnmowers.
posted by wiremommy at 5:14 PM on June 16, 2000

Oops... that should be go read K10K.
posted by wiremommy at 5:21 PM on June 16, 2000

Agreed... building a website is building a website, and the expenditure of time, work, and talent involved is exactly the same whether the site's for-profit or non-.

Unless of course you just steal the whole thing outright, which cuts down requirements for time, work, *and* talent, considerably.
posted by Sapphireblue at 5:23 PM on June 16, 2000

Wiremommy - I'm with ya all the way. There is no excuse. Influence, yes. Blatant nicking of stuff, no.
posted by tomcosgrave at 5:53 PM on June 16, 2000

Yes, Allaire has every right to know, but it is also up to them to decide whether this was acceptable or not. It doesn't surprise me too much to see elements stolen from other sites, and in this case, actual graphics or designs, but this has always been part of the nature of the web. It's not like he was selling his web design talents, so its more of a personal issue as to whether the original designer feels strongly against his/her work being emulated. Personally, I agree with sylloge, i dont think theres much damage done.
posted by aki at 8:34 PM on June 16, 2000

Gee, I'm all for copyright protection, and I know I wouldn't be happy if someone copied my site, but I really think we should keep our noses out of other people's business.
Perhaps we could spend our time doing something more interesting than playing the 'holier than thou' moral conscience of the Net. May be we could even show a little appreciation for Mr. Kester's selfless efforts!
posted by claire at 9:56 PM on June 16, 2000

Wiremommy: I can't believe I'm going to argue this, but here goes: the bottom line is that I agree that he shouldn't have done that (though only in the sense that I think people shouldn't park so close or walk under awnings if it's raining and they have an umbrella), but (a) I don't think it is very important and (b) your "see you in court" attitude seems way over the top to me (which is strange since I tend to agree with you more often than not). And here's the rest:

>The whole value of design is the unique face it puts on your site

This is wrong in two interesting ways: uniqueness is generally a neutral or bad thing in design (as opposed to art). Sometimes the properties that make something unique can make it better, but usually they just make it confusing. I prefer books that use (standard) legible type and websites that underline their links. And, perhaps it's just that you and I mean different things by the word "design", but to me the value that good design adds to the site is in primarily in the utility and ease-of-use of the site. Aesthetic appeals is important too, but the "skin" or "face" is really the least important part, except to the extent that the graphic design furthers the goals of the owners and users of the site (ie., utility and facility, but perhaps also "branding" as well). And besides, attractive, well-designed things tend to be similar to each other.

>I can't believe I have to even explain why stealing graphics is wrong.
>Would you steal a painting and sign your own name to it?

No, I wouldn't. Would you steal money from charities to finance slavery rings? (Heh - sorry, I just hate that rhetorical device).

And I wouldn't copy the look of someone else's web site either. But the analogy between the two cases is extremely thin. Art is different from design (though there seems to be a lot of confusion about this) and while passing someone else's work off as your own is bad, I don't think that is what was happening here. The work that was copied was generic corporate stuff. He didn't do it so that he could take credit for the design (I'm assuming) but rather so that there was a presentation for the content he and the site's users were generating. The presentation itself was irrelevant.

On the other hand, when people steal Toke's graphics and don't credit them, they are misrepresenting their own skills and are (most of the time) truly taking credit for someone else's work. But that's because they are also designers and they are trying to show off or display things that they didn't make. This site was about support for people suffering from mental illness, not what a hotshot designer this guy was.

>And yes, it is illegal to copy creative work

In some cases that is true, in other cases it is not. Photography is very well protected, in the case of movie scripts, even concepts can be protected. Melodies are. Chord progressions are not. Performance art isn't. Masonry isn't. And, AFIAK, the layout and colors of a web site are not (though, of course, as we've agreed, stealing graphics is). Graphics, however, are not design. As an aside, I have mixed feelings about whether the design of business or e-commerce oriented corporate sites is creative or techinical work (I lean towards the later since that better describes my own experience).

>If he really thought that what he was doing was okay, Mr. Kester
>wouldn't be so cheesed that Allaire is going to find out about it.

Not necessarily. I think it is okay to smoke pot, but I wouldn't want someone telling customs officers that about me, simply because it would be a pain in the ass. And this might turn out to be a pain in the ass for this guy. (Calebos, please post Allaire's response here — I am curious to see if they care.)

Look, the practice of opening offsite links inside your own frameset is of dubious ethical stature (though, I think it has been determined to be legal for the moment) since there is the potential for misunderstanding as to whose content is in the frame. On your site is probably fine since most visitors will be sophisticated enough to understand what is going on. But how would you like it if someone sent email with screenshots of your site to the lawyers of all the companies whose sites you link to, telling them how you're ripping them off? Chances are some of those lawyers/companies will be clueless enough to pursue the matter, and that too would be a pain in the ass.

>I hope there're some designers on MeFi who can back me up on this.

I'm sure that most will.

posted by sylloge at 10:08 PM on June 16, 2000

> I'm sure that most will.

I'll back you up on that. Stealing the layout or design from some other copyrighted site is 1) stealing, 2) actionable, 3) something to be ashamed of. I don't understand why anyone would defend this.

And since Mr Kester changed his site right after he got busted, I think he also knows it was wrong.

See that copyright notice at the bottom of the page. It means something. And while you might not want it to apply to layout, HTML, and design elements, it does.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2000

I think Calebos did the right thing by informing Allaire (and including Mr. Kester so that he knew what was going on), so that the involved parties could settle the matter. However, I'm beginning to question the wisdom of dragging this out in public. Is there any reason why this shouldn't have been a private matter between Allaire and Kester?
posted by harmful at 8:39 AM on June 17, 2000

The whole whistle blower thing bothers me too. Personally I think it's a little extreme to send a screen shot. And who would want to get a reputation for being some sort of corporate copyright enforcer? Something tells me Allaire can take care of themselves.

I'm trying to not be a hypocrite here. Maybe I'm failing. Oh well.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:25 AM on June 17, 2000

>See that copyright notice at the bottom of the page. It means something.Yes, it means that all the contents of the site are copyrighted by Allaire. But Kester didn't duplicate Allaire's content (though maybe that is what we are arguing here: what counts as content — where is dhartung or someone who actually knows the laws when you need him?) I can't duplicate A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but I can use exactly the same layout for my book (and layout for books is every bit as difficult and creative as layout for HTML pages).
I've never heard of a case where presentation has been protected by copyright laws (and I would certainly hope that it isn't, since I'm not in the habit of doing a lot of research when I format a business letter or HTML page or poster).>And while you might not want it to apply to layout, HTML, and design elements, it does.Listen, we are using "copy" in two different senses. I can't make an duplicate of someone else's HTML, but I can use <font size="4" color="#996633"> in just the same way they do. I would agree that Kester's duplication of Allaire's background gif is illegal (though also trivial) but that was the only thing on the site that was duplicated as far as I could tell (and even that could have been recreated very easily).As for your claim about protection for layouts: Amazon is a very protective company, and Fatbrain is a direct competitor to them. Though recent changes to both sites have slightly blurred the resemblance, they still use almost exactly the same layout and I've never heard of Amazon taking any action and I don't think they should be able to.>And since Mr Kester changed his site right after he got busted, I think he also knows it was wrong.This is still as spurious as it was the first time around and my original reply still holds.Now repeating: It would have been better for Kester to come up with his own thing in the first place, but it is not a big deal.
posted by sylloge at 10:39 AM on June 17, 2000

1. This should have been handled privately. Doing it here, and sending the screenshot, smacks of cyber-vigilantism, I agree.

2. What Mr Kester did was morally wrong, regardless of the merits of his charity work. Theft is theft. You can't steal a car and get off because you used it to drive orphans to school. There's a name for car thieves who tell the judge, "why don't you go after rapists and murderers?" The name is "car thieves."

3. Alas, design is not copyrightable in U.S. law. See Copyright Protects your Creations in this month's Macworld, and be sure to check out the Graphic Artist Gotchas. A beautiful typographic design was not considered copyrightable, while a cheesy one involving a Painter-transformed photograph WAS copyrightable. The law distinguishes between "artwork" and layout.

"Copyright doesn't protect the formatting, layout, or arrangement of material on the page; the selection of graphic elements such as typography and typeface, calligraphy, color, and lettering ... " etc.

The law is an ass. But legally, if Mr Kester merely IMITATED EXACTLY the design elements of Allaire's site, he did not break the law. (If he nipped even one background image, however, he DID break copyright law.) Similarly, if I imitate Glassdog exactly, I am a jerk, but I am legally safe. If I steal one of Lance's graphics, however, I'm f*cked.

Designers who steal other designers' ideas get a bad name fast. Claiming that you're not really a designer is like defending yourself as a car thief by explaining that you don't have a driver's license.

Mr Kester is not what this is about, anyway; neither is the law what this is about.

It's about ethics.

Now I get imitated a lot (see flazoom.com for example). But I find it flattering. However, if one of my commercial projects got very closely copied, I could have a problem with that. In fact, I have had a problem with it, when someone was making a lot more money than I did by imitating a commercial job I did - and then was getting additional business from that imitation.

But influence is different from copying, and we are all influenced by each other (stripes, anybody? rounded rectangles, anyone?). And the best designers give it away anyway.
posted by Zeldman at 2:07 PM on June 17, 2000

One quick comment-- "it's not like the guy was making money off" his lifting of Allaire's design.

Maybe not-- but if the guy works in web development, perhaps the NPD site is part of his portfolio and is shown to prospective employers as his own work... a possibility we should consider before leaping to his defense because "after all, he's not getting any benefit out of this".

No, I do not want to be the copyright police for corporations. However, in the past three months I've seen two web design firms' sites that directly copied graphics and/or HTML and/or design elements from other web design firms. They were directly passing off this work as their own. One of the theiving sites also had created a client's website by ripping off graphics and design from another website. Yes, I did grab screenshots & URLs and mailed them to the original designers. The theiving design firms quickly took down the copied sites, and have put up new sites which are a lot less graphically accomplished and, I imagine, reflect their actual skills a lot more accurately. I didn't do that because I felt like playing copyright cop. I did it because if someone copied my website and used it as their own work, I would want to know about it so I could tell them to knock it off.

Believe me, my progressive political impulses also lead me to think "screw that corporate site, the guy is running a nonprofit org, he gets no benefit from what he stole, let him have it". And of course I don't think anyone should sue him. I cited that earlier case to correct the mistaken assumption that it's not illegal to copy creative work, not to advocate legal action.

But even if you consider corporate web design to be more like engineering, it's still not right to copy someone else's work. If I look at your widget and then make a widget that's almost identical to your widget because I can't think of any other way to make it, I should probably check and make sure that's okay.

I'm not making a big deal out of this because I think what he did was so horrible. (I went off on him because he came here and defended himself basically saying "Yeah, I lifted their work, but it's for a good cause and it's none of your business so why don't you look the other way".) Overall I would say that his pinching of the Allaire design was wrong, and he should change it, but I certainly don't think he should be sued or anything. He wouldn't even need to make many changes-- even if he just got rid of the background graphic, he'd basically be in the clear.

What I'm making a big deal out of is this idea that lifting web design is okay. I don't agree with that idea and that's why I'm arguing so much, ultimately-- not about this specific instance of pinching, but about pinching in general.
posted by wiremommy at 2:24 PM on June 17, 2000

posted by brian at 3:19 PM on June 17, 2000

tranquileye made me (and all of us) aware of the situation. I decided to take 5 minutes to do what I thought would get the issue resolved. And it did. I stand behind my actions, and would and will do it again.

My "whistle-blower" "dick move" has also brought some flak my way, since I picked on a non-profit that does good work. Murray, you do good work, pay money out of your pocket to keep the site running. Great! Sincerely, kudos! But it does not give you the right to borrow the site design off another site.

If I hear back from Allaire (which I doubt), I'll post the response here. I'll also post a link to the screenshot here (it's on my work machine), since it is clear that not everyone saw the original site that I caused me to act. (hint: he borrowed more then the background image).

I was going to write more, but wiremommy has already summed it up nicely, sylloge thinks I'm a dick, and zeldman thinks I'm a cyber-vigilante. I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. :/
posted by Calebos at 8:21 PM on June 17, 2000

Calebos, "vigilantism" was a mite harsh. I regret the word choice. I thought handling it privately would be more discreet, but I see that you used the example to raise the subject of theft. Fair enough.

I have my own ambivalence about the issue. I've probably said "okay" to too many imitators who were polite enough to write to me first. Makes it tough to take a harsh stand on the subject.

With or without my permission, my content gets lifted and sometimes translated; my design ideas get swiped by people who don't bother to link to me (or are afraid to); even my smallest conceits (interview with self, graphic devices) get swiped all over. Sometimes I feel blessed and look at it as a form of Open Source. Sometimes I feel abused.

Theft has been an issue since the beginnings of the web - the technology makes it so easy. On reconsideration, you were right to raise the issue here.
posted by Zeldman at 12:13 AM on June 18, 2000

And I don't think you're a dick, Calebos, I just think it was a "dick move" (a really unfortunate expression I picked up from a friend). Actions and persons are separable, and I appreciate your contribution here, yadda, yadda. I just thought that was a little over the top.Now that we've gone through all that, can we shift the discussion a little? Forget about Kester and Allaire for a second. I don't agree that the law is an ass here Jeffrey. (Though I am getting the strange feeling that I suspect ACLU lawyers get as they argue a case in favour of those whose actions they don't like, as is the case for me in this instance.)If layouts were treated as intellectual property (like a photograph or an essay), we'd all be doing months of research and paying royalties just to write an email to a friend asking what time a movie was at. The possibilities may not be finite in principle, but for all practical purposes they are. There are really only so many things one can do with type, space and color (if that is less than true on paper, it is certainly true on the web).But the same people come up with the same ideas all the time (sometimes they are actually important ones, like calculus, the periodic table or the automobile). Here are some examples over the last few months for me:Jason Friend beat me to the punch with Enormicom while I was just in the planning stages of something very similar (I had even registered the domain already); I noticed Mister Pants doing the scanned images of miscellaneuos artifacts and then putting them in one directory (he called it "junk", I called it "misc_bin") with a JS drop down menu to select, just when I was starting to do the same thing. I never followed through all the way with my idea because it was just too similar to his (he was doing it first.) And you recently listed my site as a site which borrowed design elements from Zeldman.com. But I did my little talk-bubble thing in 97, somewhere between six months and a year before I'd ever seen the WSP site (the first site of yours I remember having seen — after I saw it, the table-within-a-table border thing was everywhere).But, really, the only similarity I can detect between our sites is that there are different foreground and background colors, with a border around the foreground. I think it would suck if someone patented that and I was stuck paying a royalties or being forced to do something else. As for any literary devices: no matter what they are, chances are they were done, imitated and went out of fashion several times before anyone alive today was ever born. What matters is the particular creation, not a few of its properties abstracted from the rest, or it general class or type.You know what? I couldn't care less that there is a Polish company making a Polish 5k contest without crediting me or asking permission. I get a kick out of it, and I wish them good luck. I've designed or overseen the design of a few sites that got imitated and I've never cared. (We even accidentally found someone who had cut, paste and mangled our code — including the META tags describing the site and identifying the author — on a search once, and they were a competitor. We laughed. They were hopeless. The world is big enough and it doesn't matter. I'm not spending a couple of $Ks on legal to stop some loser from ineptly complementing us, even though that actually was illegal. But I'd sure as hell would take action against someone selling CDs of songs I wrote or publishing anthologies of my papers without my permission (not something any of us will have to worry about, thankfully). Ideas should flow freely, but creations should.The difference is whether it is theft or not. If someone buys the same shoes, shorts, shirts and socks as me and wears 'em with the same sassy attitude, I'd think he was a nut. If someone takes my clothes away from me, it's just not on.I guess the bottom line for me is this: you can't just separate form from content. Design is a process, not a tangible. A web page is only designed to the extent that content, audience/user goals, author's goals, and all the other factors are taken into the mix; the creation, as it were, is a gestalt. All someone can (legally) take from you is the look, and to me that is just the most superficial part. And, as long as no harm is done (which, realistically, is most of the time) it is just another jerky thing that people do, like not stopping for pedestrans, having their mobiles on the a theatre or behave rude towards each other in airports. I wish they wouldn't do it, but I'd rather not make it a criminal activity.I am in absolute agreement with all of you on this: it sucks when someone produces a look-a-like site, and to pass off work that you did not do as your own is very wrong. Wholesale "copying" (in the imitative sense) is bad. If there is material damage to any significant degree then perhaps there ought to be legal ramifications.But context is important here: if it is just that it seems unfair, we ought to worry about something else (or, better, not worry so much).Pbbbbt! Just as I'm about to post this, I noticed a new link on the top of MF and had a look at some pages on the site that started this debate. Almost makes me want to change my mind, but it is the principle, damnit. The law is OK (though I hereby retract my defense of the motives in this instance; foot in mouth).
posted by sylloge at 3:22 AM on June 18, 2000

Syll: we've got to stop meeting this way.

Who said anything about patenting layouts? Cheez whiz. I was talking about the Macworld article, where it was shown that a lot of design work was not copyrightable (no matter how original, distinctive, or good). Yet some cheesy image treatment IS copyright-protected. I consider that a mistake in the law.

As an example: Josh Ulm's old EYECANDY site (now offline) would not be copyrightable under the law. Patrick King may remember this fine site, since it made fine use of his dandy FAST GIRLS font. I bought that font after seeing this site once. I rarely to get to use the font, but I trot it out and admire it often. Anyway ...

EYECANDY was innovative in its use of typography, color, and layout (including interesting framesets and JavaScript that was very advanced for the time). None of that is copyrightable under the law. Which means that any schmuck could come along and make an entirely derivative work without fear of legal consequence. That seems wrong to me.

Sure, said schmuck could be shamed in this hypothetical example. Sure, Josh Ulm have protested. But the law would not have backed him up, and that seems kinda screwy.

Especially when the law WOULD protect some cheesy photo of your dog's ass with a glow filter and KPT applied to it. (That would be considered an original work.)

I've never gone after anybody for copying my work. Usually, as I keep saying, I kinda dig it. We all VIEW SOURCE, we all share ideas, influence is cool. None of us creates in a vacuum.

Just a little more on this tiresome topic.

When I started I was influenced by David Siegel. Someone influenced by me might actually be most strongly influenced by the thing I did that was least original, and most Siegel-liked. That person might inspire someone else, who thinks of the third party as the originator - as if everything on that third party's site had sprung from their unique genius and had not been influenced by predecessors.

As I keep saying, we all influence each other. And as I keep saying, web design is a lot like open source - except that there is no GPL, and it relies entirely on the honor system for attribution and credit. And the honor system always breaks down, because not everybody went to Sunday School.

Seeing my influence in someone else's work (whether intermediated through a third party or not) is an ego stroke. Seeing the influenced person go way past what I did is humbling, enlightening, and enriching.

I wish fewer people would imitate unimaginatively (steal). And I wish more people whose work others (not stealing) would relax and consider it an honor. You're in trouble when they STOP being inspired by what you do.
posted by Zeldman at 12:58 PM on June 18, 2000

Zeldman - Thank you for clarifying that issue. It seems I was talking out of my ass. Oops.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:03 PM on June 18, 2000

sylloge, zeldman: no worries :)

I agree that this wasn't a big deal, and I wasn't trying to make it into one. I have picked up alot in the ensuing discussion of the larger picture, specifically that the issue is clouded by many shade or grey, and that while legally design is not copyrightable, borrowing design is a serious ethical breach.

I'm off to read that new thread sylloge mentionned...

posted by Calebos at 3:25 PM on June 18, 2000

I've been wanting to start a blog of my own for some time, but the problem is that I have the graphic design skills of a dried turnip. And I dread the thought of having my brilliant content (oh darn, there goes my narcissism again!) laid out on some generic Manila template.

Where do ya go to learn how to do some halfway-decent design, anyway?
posted by aaron at 3:34 PM on June 18, 2000

What kind of Narcississtic (word of the day) slime would steal Zeldman's self-interview bit???? :0)

Actually, in my own defense I did it in six months before I *knew* you had one (great comedic minds think alike, bro?).

Ironically, the layout *was* inspired by Zeldman's "15 minutes" layout (in 1998, no one had a page scrolling in the center of the page... that was so cool).

But instead of stealing it directly... I studied the code worked from scratch, and got it to look just like the 15 Minutes page. And learned in the process. I did however give him full credit in my source codes. (Just amended it 10 minutes ago to mention he self-interviewed himself too.)

I did "borrow" a whole bunch of other stuff... but I'll just wait till I'm caught & confronted.. :0)

"Hello, I'm Eric....And I'm a Jeffrey Zeldman Wannabe."
"Hiiiiiii Eric!"

PS: Calebos & Wiremommy... stop beating yourselves up over there. You were looking out for another designer, and that annoying Murray guy came here trying to justify it, okay? No biggie really.
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 8:11 PM on June 18, 2000

Again, if you want to have nice-looking graphics on your site, but don't have any faith in your design skills, there are lots of places giving away templates for free. (I was going to link freewebtemplates.com, but that site seems to get off on opening extra ad windows.) A basic web-search (I'm feeling too lazy this morning to do it myself) should reveal lots of sites that are willingly giving away graphics and code for amateur site builders. Also, there are plenty of good tutorial sites on creating your own graphics from scratch.
posted by harmful at 6:20 AM on June 19, 2000 [1 favorite]

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