You can't copyright the design of a web page
September 14, 2000 8:33 AM   Subscribe

You can't copyright the design of a web page in the sense that it's a "form." You can copyright your graphics and text; you can probably copyright your HTML. You can trademark the name of a font, but you can't copyright its design. Discuss amongst yourselves.
posted by Snarl (4 comments total)
I, personally, believe that webpages shouldn't be copyrighted. Graphics, yes, but the things portrayed on the site, no. The whole reason that the internet and webpages exist is to help the flow of information. The internet has, obviously, spun off from that in the past few years, and we cannot change that. However, I am a firm supporter of the idea that once you put an idea out on the web, it is in the public's hand. If you write a brilliant essay and want to make some money from it, and don't want people to steal it, don't put it on the web. Put maybe a piece of it up, and then the info on how they can purchase it. You cannot expect people to not copy things. Think about all the book reports and research papers you wrote in school. How many times did you go the library and photocopy pages out of the books there? You didn't pay the author, the publisher or the illustrator for that copy, yet it was completely legal.

Perhaps I have gotten off track, but I suppose that's just the way I feel about this subject. My viewpoint and understanding seem to change on this subject everyday. But in the end I think it really does all go back to fair use and permissions and retaining credit.
posted by epoh at 9:02 AM on September 14, 2000

You can copyright a computer file which contains a font.

This was established in a lawsuit between Adobe and Softkey. There were two principles involved: you can't copyright a font, but you can copyright a computer data file. Well, what about a computer data file which describes a font?

Softkey worked from the principle that you can't copyright a font, proceeded to take a whole series of Adobe True-Type-Font files, change the names and headers, and sell them in the stores for about $10. Adobe sued.

The court sided with Adobe. The fact that they were computer files made them copyrightable; it doesn't matter what they contain, any computer file can have a copyright. The fact that they happened to have contained digital descriptions of fonts was judged to be irrelevant.

I would say that something similar applies here: the design of a web site can't necessarily be copyrighted, but the files which describes it can be. If someone else reproduces the look and feel from scratch, they're probably free and clear. If they take your files and slightly modify and use them, they're violating your copyright on the files (since copyright protects "derivative works").

posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:10 AM on September 14, 2000

Well, at least in my version of reality, it's fine and dandy to copy a design, but that doesn't mean copying the HTML code that creates that design. In other words, I agree with Steven for once.
posted by daveadams at 10:32 AM on September 14, 2000

I believe you probably can copyright a web page design, even if that seems like a misuse. Case law has established that editing -- selection and ordering, for example -- is protectable. All you have to be able to do is to show that your design is part of the expression of your idea -- and can anyone really doubt that the way one chooses to present information is part of the expression?
posted by peterb at 3:29 PM on September 14, 2000

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