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The Case of Jackson vs. Gawker

December 17, 2003

Not that I don’t have enough of my own rip-off problems to contend with, given the handful of new sites based on Garden designs each day…

The downside that hasn’t yet been explored, with regards to standards-based design, is that separation of content and presentation makes it entirely too easy to steal one and not the other.

When it comes down to it, structural elements don’t change a whole heck of a lot from site to site. A few headers, some paragraphs, and extraneous container divs. The design is neatly packaged up and ready to go in another file that doesn’t bring along pesky things like, you know, identifying text (which is easily discovered on Google) or links back to the original content creator, or the like. Sure, a few images and ids need to be changed, but that’s a trifle.

Now, why would someone rip off another? That is a question to ask each individual offender, but the common reason nets to lack of knowledge and/or talent. There are very few deviations from this general rule.

Which is why it’s so damn confusing when you see something like what Nick Denton’s publishing empire has allegedly done. A well respected company doing great things in the on-line publishing space, run by a dot-com millionaire, appears to have ripped off a college kid.

Prude alert: some links on the referenced pages point toward sites featuring adult-themed material. Proceed with discretion.

Others have covered it in far more detail than I will, but the basic summary appears to be that Noel Jackson and Joe Clark approached Gawker Media shortly after the launch of its latest offering, Fleshbot. They had built a nicely-compliant XHTML/CSS version of the site, and were offering Jackson’s services in compensation. Gawker politely told them no, then used it anyway. And then took the code base and applied it to their other holdings as well — Gawker itself and Gizmodo.

Yes, Jackson provided free work without a contract in place, in hopes of landing more. This is called spec work, and regardless of my own personal views on the practice, it happens frequently in the design/advertising world. And Gawker had every right to say no thanks, and not pay for the work. But that wouldn’t allow them to turn around and use it free of charge. It’s still Jackson’s work. It would appear in this case Jackson did offer the code free for use on Fleshbot. But that’s only one site, of the three it ended up on.

It’s just a collection of code, right? You can’t copyright CSS? Photographs are just a collection of pixels. Novels are just a collection of letters. Music is just a collection of sound waves. The work is what matters here, and the work is unquestionably Jackson’s.

Denton has posted transcripts of IM conversations with Jackson on Jackson’s site. It appears that he has trouble differentiating between one site and three, and in the process shows that Jackson had tried to resolve the issue before taking it to the public space.

It’s a shame that an otherwise savvy company has seemingly made such a public blunder. Let’s hope this can be quickly resolved in a manner satisfactory to both parties.


Reader Comments

1
Dave says:
December 17, 01h

You make a very good point about design theft. Stealing a CSS file is very easy to do, and as more sites move to web standards and seperated form/content, there are going to be a lot more good, clean stylesheets out there to steal.

I’d bet there haven’t been many lawsuits about this yet, and once they start happening at least we’ll have the precedents set by music sampling and remixing to go off. It’ll be tricky to define exactly in what sense one owns a design and its code. After all, there are lots of 2-column, main content + sidebar pages out there, but each designer should be able to say that they own their particular implementation.

2
rodrigo says:
December 17, 01h

I think the issue is more complicated than you make it seem though. There’s certainly clearcut cases of people ripping off websites, program GUIs, etc and this case seems to fit that.

But what exactly constitutes ripping off a web design? IMHO, if it’s purely layout, then its pretty hard to say that one is a ripoff of another, unless it’s some really unique layout.

Look at all of the centered, fixed-width 2 column websites out there. Are they all ripoffs of each other? If one site copies the ‘look and feel’ of another, that’s more clear cut. But a quick look at the Gawker site doesn’t show anything terribly original. It’s a left adjusted, fixed-width layout with 2 thin right columns. I imagine there’s a fair number out there like this. My own firm’s site is similar, but centered. Not that I’m defending these guys, if they stole the CSS/XHTML code that is clearly wrong.

But what if someone comes to you, shows you a layout and says ‘pay me’, and you simply recreate the layout on your own? Or if you see some sort of funky 4 column layout and like how it looks and recreate it? Is that a ripoff?

It sounds like what people are saying is that copying and pasting the code is stealing which I agree with. I’m not so sure that copying a layout is, especially when it’s not something terribly unique.

Anyone know if newspapers have ever sued each other over this kind of stuff?

3
Dave S. says:
December 17, 01h

I don’t think that a PDF would have had the impact that code does. It wasn’t a re-design, it was a re-coding.

The issue is pretty clear-cut here - it doesn’t seem like anyone is denying that Gawker did, in fact, copy and paste the code. Read the linked transcripts and further comments on Jackson’s site. The confusion is over whether or not Gawker had permission to do so.

As for the extent of similarity of layout, well, Adobe successfully sued Macromedia over something as simple as tabbed palettes. Make of that what you will. http://news.com.com/2100-1040-898061.html?tag=fd_top

4
Brian P says:
December 17, 03h

I don’t think that a layout should be able to be “owned” by any one person. The parts that are copyrightable are the contents like images and text. A layout has no visible parts. It’s just how you use the space in the window. If I make a layout with a two-column header and a three-column content area and a two-column footer then there’s no way for me to tell someone else that they can’t do the same thing. Now when I start adding content like images and text. I can tell someone not to use those. For example, don’t put my article on your site and say you wrote it. Or don’t take the image of a tiger that I drew and use it on your page. But the layout you can use. When a layout starts to include unique visual elements like background images, it is no longer a layout it is a template. And the only way you can use someone else’s template is if they say you can. And by unique visual elements I don’t include things like background colors or borders which are generic CSS that anyone can use.

So in this case what’s the problem? The only thing I see from looking at the sites is that they have the same layout. Which is a header and a three-column layout with the content in the left column. The content is different for each. And the content was theirs to begin with. I really don’t like stealing but I don’t see using a layout as stealing.

I must admit though that I’m criss-crossing the fine line between right and wrong here in my mind because while what they did is not illegal, I do find it inpolite.

5
December 17, 03h

It’s not even the layout that was the same (although it was identical), it was the code, pure and simple. My stylesheet was taken, edited and used on multiple sites. Do a diff (in BBEdit or another Text Editor) and you will see that the stylesheets aren’t very different, right down to class and id names.

Nick, I believe, finally sees *just*what*was*wrong* with what happened. It was bad communication, not on my part.

I will keep everyone updated on what happens.

6
December 17, 04h

as i wrote over at http://www.builtforthefuture.com/index.php?view=message&mid=20&showcomment=1&vmid=20 last month on a similar issue:

“in the old days of oldskool html (with all their convoluted triple-nested table layouts, spacer graphics, etc), it was a fairly difficult act to rip a site without making it look horribly broken. the rip actually required a good deal of html knowledge to work your way through the convoluted mess of tagsoup. but now, with table-less designs and ultra-clean xhtml+css, it’s almost a no brainer. grab the stylesheet, grab the xhtml, insert your content. no mess, no fuss.
of course this is an oversimplification, but it does strike a chord i think…”

7
December 17, 07h

Its pretty easy to find oneself in error when random IMs are combined with free offers to make business plans. I find it hard to believe that Nick could not give some small compensation for reusing the code on the other sites.

With as amazing as MT is I am surprised that nobody (that I know of) has yet to make a CSS archive collection or a CSS generator for it.

While they would probably not be able to make a ton of money off of each sale, the front runner could obviously work well with MT to become somewhat “official.”

I think it would be good marketing for leaves rustle
to use their current popularity to design this. They could either make a decent amount off of ads (the same business model of Gawker), or leverage their popularity and positioning to charge for custom hand crafted blog code.

If I knew anything about coding I would already be doing this - all I have been doing is sticking my nose in marketing books though :)

8
December 17, 07h

Looking around further I just ran into your CSS Zen Garden website…cool site… this is somewhat similar to the idea I was talking about. Its pretty hard to create any original ideas these days (at least for me)!

9
December 17, 07h

I think it is mostly a misunderstanding. Pointy Haired Guy assumed that the template was his to use and wouldn’t use it on one site without intending on using it on all his cookie-cutter sites. Desperate Web Guy thought he could give them one free and copy+paste a few paying projects after that. There is a good reason why a lot of companies don’t accept “free” submissions, it’s not free if you have to call in a lawyer to write up a contract before you can look at the “gift”.

10
Dris says:
December 17, 09h

One must understand that your CSS *is* copyrighted, just like the source code of a software application. No, the general layout isn’t necessarily copyrighted (though I could see a problem if someone used their own code to recreate your layout, color scheme and everything, right down to the pixel).

Writing good CSS that all browsers will munch down isn’t (usually) easy. There’s no justifying the theft of CSS, even if it *was* a recreation of another original layout.

Say you have a guy who makes cars. He’s made a very nice-looking car, but the innards are all jacked up. Then some brilliant engineer comes along and redesigns the inside of the vehicle, upping the fuel efficiency and reliability. He shows his ideas to the car maker, but the car maker turns his offer down. Two weeks later, the car is released looking the same, but with the new mechanical design. Does the engineer have good reason to be angry? Absolutely.

Not the best parallel in the world, but it serves my purposes.

11
Jim says:
December 17, 11h

We could always help out by giving it the “Fair & Balanced” treatment (with the original author’s permission of course) and replicate that design around the world by making MT etc. templates readily available to whoever wants them.

12
Jim says:
December 17, 11h

Seriously though, the visual presentation should have made with a pdf. If a functional presentation was absolutely neccessary a signed agreement could have prevented this or at least presented a clear path to legal recourse. I’m gla I’m out of corporate but I did bring back some valuable lessons with me.

13
David House says:
December 17, 12h

Why though? It doesn’t sound like he was asking for much in return, one extra staff isn’t going to hurt a huge media company, and there’s no point in putting yourself in the public eye like this for no reason.

I guess this is what they pay PR guys for…

14
December 18, 02h

The fact that the two layouts are the same is NOT the issue. Yes, it is quite possible for two people to separately come up with the same design with exactly the same margins, widths etc. The issue here is that someone wrote some code, therefore had copyright for that code, and someone else used it without permission. Originality is not the issue - copyright law is.

15
Carps says:
December 18, 02h

Problem 1:
There are a finite number of ways to achieve a particular layout.

Problem 2:
CSS advocates (the usual suspects) publish solutions to commonly encountered problems that are eagerly copied by us, the teeming millions.

Problem 3:
Anyone can view anyone else’s CSS.

Problem 4:
Copy a stylesheet, change the ID and class names, nudge a margin 1 or 2 pixels here and there and who can possibly prove that you copied the source?

So… everyone copies CSS. Its too easy to do, and its most prominent advocates actively encourage this by revealing their techniques. Net result: a thousand sites using similar layouts and similar CSS code to achieve similar effects. Is anyone out there fighting for the rights of the inventor of the javascript drop-down list?

Sure, the company acted in bad faith towards Noel, but that is as much a result of the technology itself than the particularly venal nature of the company involved. Let’s face it - a CSS file is an hour or two and a text-editor. The real skill is in graphic design and interaction design.

Microsoft patent technology and create closed systems and we all cry foul. A company leverages the open-source nature of CSS and we all cry foul. Go figure…

16
December 18, 03h

In no way does ease of copying justify what this company did. The fact that CSS is as open and copyable as it is means that copying of CSS design without permission may be easy but is no less Illegal under copyright law.

17
Joe Clark says:
December 18, 03h

Could I please try to clarify Wertheimer’s comment above?

Jackson tried to resolve the issue “privately” with Denton. It didn’t work. Jackson and others wrote about Denton’s actions, which nobody but Denton seems to think are remotely OK, but it’s *Jackson* whose reputation might be tarnished? Especially among people who side with Nick?

How does that work again?

Is someone unclear as to who is the aggrieved party here? Hint: It’s Noel Jackson.

18
Carps says:
December 18, 04h

Inevitably, I am going to disagree with the premise of the photograph analogy. And then I’m going to bed.

A photograph is a piece of art that you made using someone elses’s technology. This does not give you copyright over the method of making that piece of art - it gives you copyright of the finished piece.

Would you seriously try to copyright someone using, say, the same shutter speed, exposure time, film, paper, lens, chemicals and make of camera as you did for that particular photograph?

Bottom line: In practical terms, what people are arguing for here is unenforcable. Unless someone is stupid to simply copy an entire stylesheet, comments, classnames and all, there is no way to detect the thievery.

But if you genuinely want people to copyright CSS code - which is a concrete legal reality, not just a philosophical debating point - then we can say goodbye to people sharing their neat ideas. I’ll be at the Patent Office monday morning with my 45 degree tilting text technique in my hand.

19
Carps says:
December 18, 04h

Final thought: If I build a replica Ferrari without permission, who do you think will come after me? The engineers? Or the designers…

To use the photograph analogy, do the people who process your films have an equal share in any claim you make under copyright?

Just because most of us here currently code *and* design our pages doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be, or will be in the future.

If you think your CSS solution is original enough to warrant a patent, then fair enough. Claiming that any old CSS file is copyrightable because it doesn’t exactly match any other CSS file seems to me to be a reductio ad absurdum that leads us nowhere in terms of practical reality.

Using WYSIWYG editors, having to implement someone else’s design, or just using a different technology (such as Flash) to the same end, all muddy the waters that we’re trying to so hard to pretend are crystal clear.

20
Carps says:
December 18, 04h

Can you really copyright:
h1 (font-family:arial;color:blue)?

No?

How about:
div#menu {float:right;width:140px;padding:12px;)?

How about a stylesheet with both of those things in - could you copyright that?

I’m not here to defend Gawker - they acted in bad faith, and should have acknowledged the work done for them in some way or another.

But copyright law protects originality of expression and identity. It is patent law that protects ideas and methods.

It’s an analogy that’s been used before, but CSS is nothing more than the ‘grammar’ of web design.

You can copyright a slogan, but not the sentence structure or the words that go to make it up.

Everyone a sentence like Yoda can write. But he isn’t hopping around on the spot, fuming because his style copied has been.

21
December 18, 06h

“It’s an analogy that’s been used before, but CSS is nothing more than the ‘grammar’ of web design.”

i beg to differ. i site’s css is an *implementation* of the grammar…much in the same way that you can’t say that source code of a copyrighted piece of software (with all it’s IP and other implications) is the grammar of computer programming. the grammar is the CSS spec (or the C/C++/whatever spec), not its implementation.

22
December 18, 06h

“But copyright law protects originality of expression and identity. It is patent law that protects ideas and methods.”

well, in that case i think it might apply to cases in which CSS is used in unusual, innovative, original ways (those weird “oh god, this is so simple, why didn’t i think of it…genius” type moments you get when looking at some visually stunning, css-driven layouts). sure, you can’t copyright the basic h1 { font-size: 150%; } or similar - there’s too much prior art, and heck, it’s not original.

23
Al says:
December 18, 06h

Joe Clark said, “OK, but it’s *Jackson* whose reputation might be tarnished?”

I don’t have a horse in this race and as unpopular stance as it may be, I can see Dentons side. However, in terms of tarnishment (is that even a word?) I’ll be associating this fiasco with Denton forever.

Mr. Jackson is clearly a competent and capable designer, but considering I’m not in the market for a designer but *am* a consumer of Dentons content the later has a much greater impact on me. It’s a shame. I’ll never look at those sites, all of which I quite enjoyed, the same way again.

In the end, the Denton brand took a bigger hit than the stylesheet and karma comes around quick hereabout.

24
December 18, 06h

What I have gleaned from this whole debate:

If you are a designer;

* Never do spec work. It is a total waste of time. That ten hours it took Noel to build the CSS could have been used to launch his own personal media empire ala Gawker.

* Never do work for a company that steals pics of porn from around the web as a business.

* If you don’t land that big job you were hoping for, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself. Whining only destroys your rep.

If you are a business owner;

* Never allow a designer who thinks your website sucks to redesign it for you for at “no charge”. There is no such thing as free in business. Everything costs you money.

* Never use IM to discuss confidential business matters. Always meet face-to-face or discuss matters via phone.

* Use contracts or confidentiality aggreements. They will protect you from headaches.

* Stealing from others and pissing people off will only hurt your business.

25
Eric says:
December 18, 07h

Of course you can’t copyright one h1 selector, or 1 p selector…in music, I can’t really copyright a g or an a, or even a c major chord… (though John Cage’s estate insists that all silence is under his copyright)

It is the combinatory effect of notes that make music, words that make poetry, selectors that make css.

I think the idea that css is just an “hour and a text editor” is a misunderstanding. The page _is_ the css. The HTML document is just structural markup - the only think important is the content. The rest are just structural tags or references to the css. I spend much more than an hour or two writing and testing my css in the move from PhotoShop comps to a webpage. The css is what creates the page - I don’t feel a great sense of creative success after marking up a page with headline and ul tags, but realizing a graphic design through css is definately a creative process and the rewarding part of web design for me.

Yes, there is skill in graphic design and interface design, but there is also skill and work and talent involved in creating efficient, elegant css. It is open source only in the same way that the English language is open source. What I do with css, and what I do with language, is intellectual property and mine to use exclusively unless I explicitly say otherwise.

I can write a letter and tell people “use this template to write to your congressman” (or whatever) and they would be in the right to sign their names to that letter. But if someone else even copies this post and signs their name to it, it would be stealing. (despite the lack of profundity, the lack of original word combinations…this is not great writing.)

26
Jim says:
December 18, 07h

Keep brainstorming this because to raise CSS implementations from tech grammar to a copywritable collection of language will require a test in court to recognize it as such.

27
December 18, 07h

Can you really copyright:
h1 (font-family:arial;color:blue)?
No?

^^ Likewise you can’t copyright single words. When you package those words together into something thats when it becomes a little more fuzzy.

Just my flopzighamen© anyway..

28
Carps says:
December 18, 07h

Hi Patrick.

I still think a claim for an “original” CSS solution would fall under a patent rather than a copyright.

Using an image for a header is not an original idea, but FIR *is* an original method of achieving that effect.

I think its stretching it a little bit to claim that as being self-expression or identity.

But leaving aside the desirability of encouraging CSS innovators to patent their solutions rather than share it with us poor schmucks, where does that leave the majority of solutions?

We have a small number of problems to solve (liquid three column layouts, yada yada yada) and a limited toolset to solve these problems. Hence, people will arrive at the same conclusions, and others will simply steal those conclusions.

Change a few lines of code in a 50 line CSS file, and it isn’t the same thing any more… rename the classes, job’s a carrot… so whatcha gonna do?

I arrived at this solution through thought and experimentation

He arrived at this solution by nicking my source code outright

She arrived at this solution by nicking 60% of my source code, and 40% of Their source code.

They arrived at the conclusion that trying to control this is largely pointless!

29
Lea says:
December 18, 08h

I doubt it’s the individual lines of CSS that determines copyright of that file. It’s the unique combinations within that file that makes it unique, right? So of course we can’t copyright h1 (font-family:arial;color:blue) – but if the rest of the document is different, that’s a unique file. For example, a lot of people use Verdana as their main body copy type. Does that mean only ONE person can use {font-family: Verdana; font-size: 1em}? Of course not.

Anyway, the point is that Jackson provided Gawker with a professional document and it was filched, without getting proper compensation. CSS or not, that’s just wrong. It’s like approaching a publisher with a book, having it rejected, and then they publish the book anyway without paying you and change the author’s name. It’s not the case of whether CSS can be copyrighted or not – it’s the case of someone providing an organization with something, and after it’s rejected, uses it anyway. In other types of cases, that can bring up a lawsuit.

It’s one thing for someone to just visit your site and filch your code – but Gawker actually was APPROACHED with the original document.

Ahem.

30
December 18, 08h

The smart thing would have been for Noel to loudly trumpet that Gawker Media is using his CSS all over the place, and let that fact, along with the sites’ visibility, lead to more work.

Some public acclaim may even have given Noel leverage to pressure Gawker to pay for the code and book some future business. Bawling out Nick Denton in public not only ensures Noel won’t get hired, but anyone that knows Nick and respects his opinion probably won’t go to Noel for work, either.

I won’t judge whether it was appropriate for Gawker and Gizmodo to adapt the Fleshbot code. I sympathize with Noel, but I suspect a little more private discussion (how about a phone call?) would have cleared the air.

To bastardize the proverb, life threw Noel a lemon in the form of an IM misunderstanding. Noel chose to suck on the lemon. He should have made lemonade.

31
Carps says:
December 18, 08h

“there is skill in graphic design and interface design, but there is also skill and work and talent involved in creating efficient, elegant css”

^^ I’m not denying this for one second. But it is a non-sequitur to claim that protection afforded to one is automatically afforded to the other.

As I tried to elucidate earlier, CSS is just a solution to realising a vision. You want to cross a river you build a bridge. Once in a century perhaps, someone finds a new way to do this, but the vast majority go for a tried and tested solution. The suspension bridge, the cantilever etc etc…

Do the engineers claim copyright the methods they’ve used in previous projects? No - although they can patent new methods they’ve pioneered if they are so inclined. Do the architects protect the visual appearance of their bridge - you bet your ass!

We’re wandering off topic I think, but there seems to be a collective tendancy to be precious about CSS as if it is an ‘art’. The art is in the design - the CSS is just engineering. Not that this devalues the work in any way - there’s a lot of damnably clever chaps out there and I doff my cap accordingly.

Were these conversations prevalent the first time someone realised that you could use rowspan=”2” to achieve a different layout with tables? Seems unlikely…

32
Carps says:
December 18, 08h

Sorry to intrude again - but I would like to reiterate that Gawker were off bounds. Not because of the sanctity of code, or any such blather, but because they broke an agreement. That in itself seems simple enough.

33
December 18, 08h

“It’s an analogy that’s been used before, but CSS is nothing more than the ‘grammar’ of web design.”

I took a photo of a sculpture in the city once. I didn’t make my camera, the sculpture I photographed, the film in the camera, or the paper it was printed on. I didn’t come up with the theories behind use of light or composition. Other photographers use all those same tools all the time. There have to be thousands if not millions of photographs of sculptures, and undoubtedly there are plenty of other photographs of that very same sculpture.

Yet I have every right to copyright that photograph.

You say that a CSS file lacks originality in the sense that CSS and XHTML are the ‘grammar’ for a Web design and everyone else can use the same tools. What you’re ignoring is that it is the whole, the end product, that is original work. Thought has been put into the composition of the CSS file, even though the designer doesn’t happen to be the inventor of the CSS spec.

‘You can copyright a slogan, but not the sentence structure or the words that go to make it up.”

Actually, you can’t generally copyright a slogan, just as you cannot copyright a title, name, or short phrase: it’s too small. You can protect your slogan with a trademark if it’s connected to a product or a service, but there is a minimum amount of authorship.

In most cases, copyright cannot be placed on something without sufficient originality. What cannot be copyrighted:
- anything that isn’t fixed (ie written, saved to disk, recorded)
- an idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery (that’s what patents are for)
- “useful articles” (objects with a utilitarian purpose and, interestingly, clothing)
- small works, like a really short phrase or a few words
- a compilation of works, unless some original thought was put into the arrangement (no to the phone book, yes to World’s Greatest Beer-Drinking Songs)
- it cannot simply be a mechanical reproduction of something (I can’t copyright that Chemical Brothers CD I just burned).

All else is deemed to have sufficient originality to be considered copyrightable. I’m not convinced that a CSS file with the complexity of the fleshbot spec doesn’t count. It is an expression, done in a particular way to create a particular result, even if that result is similar to other works.

“Let’s face it - a CSS file is an hour or two and a text-editor.”

Bzzt, wrong answer. That photo I mentioned earlier was a thirty second snap-decision to go stand someplace, squint through a little window and press a button. How much effort is required for original work to deserve protection? Three hours? Twelve? Ten minutes, but only if it’s really really really hard?

In US caselaw, the ‘sweat of the brow’ argument was rejected several years ago in Feist Publications v Rural Telephone Co. As well as pointing out that a phone book isn’t creative or original enough to constitute a copyrightable work, the 6th Circuit ruled that the amount of effort one puts into creating something has no bearing on the originality of the end result.

“well, in that case i think it might apply to cases in which CSS is used in unusual, innovative, original ways…”

So it’s only the unusual, innovative, original, oh-my-god type stuff that deserves protection by copyright? Oh-oh, there goes the protection for about half of today’s pop music.

A work doesn’t have to be any good to be protected by copyright. It just needs to have an element of original authorship.

34
Dave says:
December 18, 09h

I wonder how bad this problem will be once WYSIWYG editors can create valid stylesheets. I’m not saying that the copyright and ownership issues will go away or won’t be important, but I think we’re in a transition stage. Right now smart designers can code better, cleaner, leaner pages than tools can, but eventually someone will come up with an editor that can figure out how to position everything and will do this work for us. A good designer shouldn’t be someone who can code the simplest CSS to do the job. The tools should take care of that. A good designer should produce good pages.

35
December 18, 09h

If you take the view that the CSS is the design, then the argument becomes easier to solve - everyone accepts that a piece of design is copyrightable. The confusion here (at least one of them) arises from the fact that for the design to be rendered requires the CSS, images, content and a browser (don’t forget that!). As such I can understand some people debating the relevance of copyright law to the piece. In terms of copyright law for a piece of text, you cannot copyright an ‘a’, but you can copyright a sentence. The CSS might not be the entire design no more than a sentence from a novel is the whole story, but it is an intrinsic part of the piece, written by someone and is his copyright.
Lets look at a another of the argument raised here - the idea that “anyone can write some CSS”. If I wrote a “Hello World” program in my spare time, that code is my copyright. Issues arise however that someone else may of implemented the same program in the same language, but this doesn’t matter - as long as I can prove that my implementation was written without reference to the original, and that it was all my work yadda yadda, then I have copyright of that code. Note that owning the copyright doesn’t preclude the earlier author of the program which happened to be the same still has copyright of his code. Don’t get patents and the option of prior art get confused with copyright law - they are very different things!

36
Sencer says:
December 18, 09h

>>“well, in that case i think it might apply to cases in which
>>CSS is used in unusual, innovative, original ways…”
>
>So it’s only the unusual, innovative, original, oh-my-god type
>stuff that deserves protection by copyright? Oh-oh, there
>goes the protection for about half of today’s pop music.

Actually I have the impression that a lot of people really think so and use this as an excuse to copy mp3s. “Oh that’s not really good music, I wouldn’t have bought it. It’s not worth the money. But with albums that I really like, I do go out and buy the CD.”
Well then, if it’s really not that original why are people using it? Why did they copy the stylesheet? One cannot have it both ways: Having that exact “thing”, and at the same arguing that it can be “copied” ‘cause it’s nothing special.

[My comment was in no way related to the lawfulnes of any activity, but rather to the logic of the argumentation]

37
December 18, 09h

sorry Sencer, I think I should have been a little clearer instead of making a lame attempt at humour. My thought is that the CSS for something should be considered protectable by copyright, even if it’s awfully similar to something else, or if it’s freakin’ hideous. The idea of it being ‘special’ or ‘different’ should not be the only thing that makes it worth copyrighting.

38
December 18, 10h

Mary, you are too right.

39
Dris says:
December 18, 12h

There’s no denying that people go around looking at each other’s CSS to adapt techniques. But there’s a *big* difference between saying, “Oh, drop down menus!” or, “Oh, image replacement!” and copying an entire stylesheet (whether it was offered in an agreement or not).

He went through work to take their layout and rebuild it more efficiently, and that work was stolen. It’s unfair to say that it’s not protected under copyright. I’m not saying that people won’t do a similar layout using some of the exact same CSS, but the difference is that they did it themselves.

In this case, we know for sure that the CSS was copied directly. Therefore, the copyright can be defended.

40
December 18, 12h

Dris, you see it exactly how I do – correctly as well. It’s not the design that I thought up. In fact, I have NOTHNG to do with the “design”. I did however construct a stylesheet that you can tell (as clear as day) was adapted without my permission. End of story.

Nick and I are talking this over and we will most definitely reach an amicable solution within the next few days.

41
Matt says:
December 19, 07h

I might add one more note to Mary’s list.

If you are a designer with an axe to grind, remember that for many media enterprises, any publicity is good publicity. I wonder if Fleshbot noticed a bump in hits over the past few days?