Sub:lime Discussion | March 21, 2004

Thanks for all the comments about my recent Zen Garden rip. Who'd have known Metallica were such avid readers of my blog ;-)

I've been in email contact with both the designer who used my design and the owners of the site. Both have been extremely reasonable and the site got taken down and redesigned almost immediately.

It was clear from my corespondents that the designer in question was under the impression that the CC license gave him the right to use my design in any way he felt fit. My initial feeling was that he was wrong, but after reading some of your comments, I'm not so sure.

When I submitted my design, I read through the FAQ's, the CC licence and the comments Dave puts in the CSS files. All designs are given the same license and comments, so this is not something I could change or add to.

It was my understanding that the CSS was under a "Share and share alike" licence, but the design was not. This made perfect sense to me at the time. Being a designer and a developer, I see the design and the code as two completely different things. The design is the visual idea, the CSS is simply the mechanism I chose to represent that idea in.

As a developer, I'm not precious about my code. I'm happy for people to download it and play with it to see how it works. God knows I've done this before. I'm happy for people to grab chunks of code to use on their own sites, or use the code as a building block for something new. After all, this is how many people learn web design, and one of the reason the Garden was set up. Hell, it's one of the reason I submitted my design in the first place.

However as a designer, I see the design as a completely different, and very personal thing. While I'm happy for people to use my code, I'm less happy for people to use my designs without permission. Call me whatever you want, that's just the way I feel.

Usually it's pretty easy to spot a copy. I get quite a few people emailing me, telling me about a new sub:lime clone they have found. If they were better than the original, I'd be pretty chuffed. However they rarely are. A few people said that I should be happy that the designs are always worse than the original. However it just makes me sad. As I explained to Dave S, it's like when you design a great looking site for a client and then come back in 6 months to see that it's been messed up. It's not a nice feeling seeing good things go bad.

When something stops being your design and starts being a completely new work is a different matter. I'm all for people taking inspiration. In fact I'd encourage it. Building on somebody else's work is a good, creative and positive thing to do. Simply copying the design is lazy.

I think using music as an analogy is an interesting idea. I'd be more than happy for you to take a complete copy of sub:lime and either keep a copy on your computer or even publish it on your own version of the CSS Zen Garden. Using the music analogy, this would equate to file sharing . I'm also happy for people to take the design and use it as a base for creating something completely new and different (remixing). However I'm not happy for people to add their own content to my design and then do whatever they want with it. This would be like downloading a song, changing a few of the words and then using it for your company jingle or trying to sell it on to somebody else as your own work.

After reading some of the comments on my original post, I revisited the CC license and realised that the distinction between the design and the code wasn't as clear cut as I'd first thought. While I still believe that the design is different from the code, I now agree that the design is implied by the code, and that, if you release the code under a "Share and share alike" license, you're effectively releasing the design as well.

Despite what the rest of the comments in the code may say, having your design released under such a licence removes all control you have over the design. Effectively, the design isn't yours any more. You'd have no right to ask people not to use your design. They could sell it on, they could post it to a site such as, they can basically do anything, as long as the license remains the same. It also appears, that once something is released under a CC licence, it can't be changed.

Some people have suggested that my decision to remove my design from the Garden was down to me not being able to handle the fact that people will always rip off designs. This is not the case. I'm perfectly aware that there will always be people out there who will copy other's work.

The reason I chose to remove my design is because the license it's been released under actively encourages this kind of copying.

Posted at March 21, 2004 1:53 AM


Chris Vincent said on March 21, 2004 5:39 AM

I would agree with you. I think that adding Non-Commercial to the license would allow for the flexibility to “fileshare” and do “remixes” while giving the designer the leverage to tell other designers not to sell it (that doesn’t stop it from happening, but at least you get the legal priority).

This doesn’t account for personal and non-profit rips, but I don’t mind those so much. Only personal sites have used Outburst, and they always change the graphics and give me props. Perhaps adding Attrib to the license would clear it up for those who don’t want personal/non-profit sites using their design.

It might be possible for designers to tell Dave how they’d like their submission to be shared, but that might muck the Garden up. The idea is legitimate sharing, and if some designers ask for No-Derivs, there could be problems. Perhaps restrict what designers are allowed to choose for their license…?

I don’t know. I will miss Sub:lime… It was one of my favorites.

Russ Weakley said on March 21, 2004 5:45 AM

I can understand your concerns, and while I think it is sad you have pulled your design out of Zen Garden, it is ultimately your choice.

The thing that amazes me in all this is that people pass of copies of your work in professional circles. It is one thing to to play and experiment - even if it ends up on a small personal site, but to hand a client a ripped-off design or a ripped off fully coded site and expect payment is extremely unethical. How would you explain it if the client found out? What sort of fool would you feel?

Malarkey said on March 21, 2004 7:56 AM

It’s a shame to see sub:lime go from the Garden, (although I still have the copy on your server bookmarked :) ).

Didier Hilhorst said on March 21, 2004 9:11 AM

I’m truly saddened to see your entry go. The first CSS Zen Garden copyright discussion happened when a batch of designs was used in an open source CMS as you might recall. Mine was included. Prior to that affair my design was also used on a commercial site. After some pressure and many e-mails the design was altered (although snippets of code remain which is fine).

I’ve came to the conclusion that while my design has been and might be again used in its entirety by some, both commercial and non-commercial, I prefer to keep it available for people to learn from and get inspired. Seperating content from presentation makes it easy to steal a design. This topic has been discussed during SxSW 2004 in the panel entitled “CSS: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly”. It also features a bunch of copies of my design

Copies of my design are still online as we speak. I’m afraid it’s an inevitable aspect of digital productions. I used to have strong feelings about people using my design. But after talking to Dan, Dave, Keith and others I realised that these are either personal sites or commercial sites with low or no impact. Removing the design from the CSS Zen Garden is unfortunately not going to solve the underlying problem. That said I understand where you come from and why you ultimately decided to withdraw your design.

Jon HIcks said on March 21, 2004 9:54 AM

CC or no CC, the fact remains that people will steal code and site designs wholesale no matter what. I don’t personally believe that the licence actively encourages people to steal a design - if people lack integrity, they’ll rip you off regardless. There is of course the issue that css based design is easier to steal than a flash site.

Others have ripped off my Zen Garden submissions, and while its infuriated me, I wouldn’t withdraw my submissions. I’ve reaped so many benefits from the Zen Garden - its helped raise my profile, and I’ve honed my skills from working with the restrictions. Cold calls from new clients have increased ten fold. I also have the opportunity to learn from others - see how they write their stylesheets, and achieve their designs. As Dave said in his post, for everyone that steals a design, there is a silent number that enjoy, learn and benefit from it.

Sorry Andy, I do understand your concerns, but I really do think it’s bad for the community to withdraw your submission.

Bobby van der Sluis said on March 21, 2004 6:11 PM

Andy, you definately made a statement. Still I don’t think withdrawal will resolve any design theft issues.

Some more of my thoughts on this issue:

Richard Earney said on March 21, 2004 7:39 PM

I think Andy is right to say it is fine for CSS to be used, but not the design concept and you have to say that he can’t be blamed disliking the CC overly free sharing policy.

Yes people will steal designs anyway, but perhaps best not to give free reign to people to do it.

Did the designer you contacted express any surprise/contrition about using your design that closely?

AlastairC said on March 21, 2004 8:44 PM

If I were you (Andy), I’d leave it up. Not because I disagree with what you said, but because it is too late.

Once released under a particular licence, there is no point in putting it under a more restrictive licence. Given things like the google cache, and the wayback machine there is little point in removing it.

I’d leave it up as proof that the design was created by you…

Joel said on March 22, 2004 1:55 AM

You effectively, and correctly, imply that the whole of the CSS Zen Garden is up for grabs by the unscrupulous. I think, in fact, you are right to take this stand, even though it may be seen as a pointless gesture and closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, nonetheless as a point of principle you are right to bring it up.

Myself, I don’t see what is wrong with making each submission to the CSS Zen Garden copyright the designer. This does not prevent anyone experimenting with the CSS in the privacy of their own home or using the CSS Zen Garden for inspiration, but it does protect against commercial exploitation of design. Even if it does not prevent theft, it gives potential recourse should others attempt to make money out of your own work, and it gives a very clear indication of the status of the work. (It also protects against people using your work in a non-profit sense of course, but it is the idea of commercial exploitation of work freely done that is most insulting and where it would be advantageous to have a leg to stand on.)

The Creative Commons license is ill-conceived, just a faddish fashion, a “meme” among people who do not think ahead or think things through, or read contracts very thoroughly. They prefer to place their trust in the idea that other people have done the thinking for them. The CSS Zen Garden could thrive equally as well by making each submission copyright the designer, explicitly and non-exclusively licensed to CSS Zen Garden (much like offering “first world serial rights” on a magazine article). Too late for submissions to date, but it is the obvious and clear solution if the CSS Zen Garden wants to have a future.

Jonathan Stanley said on March 22, 2004 1:55 AM

I have to say sub:lime was also one of my favourite designs in the garden and am indeed very sad to see it go… though personally I’d have left it there to prove it was authored by me.

Design ripping happened before web designers abused tables for all those years that they did and regardless whether the license, ultra restrictive or permissive ones such as Creative Commons or GPL.

But as I see it, the ease at being able to rip a design by grabbing the CSS files and associated images is probably a bonus, since whoever that ripped it is typically lazy… so chances are, less would have been changed in terms of structure and thus easier to attribute back to the rightful author.

As for the design “feel”… know that all too well with a GPL project (phpBB) I volunteer in at a non-developer capacity. What was done stylistically wasn’t a first, but it was new for the time it was first shown back in late 2001 when it was either the vBulletin or UBB look being the norm for a Bulletin Board System.

Almost three years on and style ideas still live on, which one software house releasing a product just this week that hints to a “clone of a clone”.

Not that it matters as it just raises the bar for the designers that do break the mould and try new things to create something even more earth shattering. :D

Joel said on March 22, 2004 2:12 AM

I might also add that if a design was copyright the designer and licensed to CSS Zen Garden, Dave Shea wouldn’t have to worry about people wanting to remove their designs after the fact, since in granting license to him they would have no right to withdraw their work and could rely only upon his goodwill. That could suit him very well too.

Joey said on March 22, 2004 3:53 AM

You are too talented to be so worried about these small things.

Do you honestly believe that people will stop ripping your design if you take it out of the CSS Zen Garden?

I use the Garden for almost every sales pitch to customers these days as it illustrates how powerful CSS design can be and how we can “refresh” their site visually and not have to change up content. It is powerful and I’m sorry that you’ve made this decision.

The thing that I find amazing is that even though I read the blogs of CSS designers on a daily basis, I really don’t know them as people. It’s disappointing.

Keep up the amazing design work. Just don’t hide it all from us fans.

Jay Pettitt said on March 22, 2004 10:09 AM

Just to clarify - under all Creative Commons licenses copyright remains with the author. The point of the license is that the author is saying that it is ok for others to use the work under the terms of the license. Fair enough I would say.

The share-alike deed that Dave Shea choose to use with Zen Garden is the most open of a raft of licenses that CC can provide. It allows the freedom to use, reuse and adapt designs while protecting the work from being stolen, ie. unscrupulous guy can not take a design and claim ownership and then come back to haunt the original author later.

I can not see how Creative Commons can be considered the bad guy in this. The share-alike license is not ill concieved. I use it whenever I wish to place work into the public domain. The problem in this case is that Andy B. and possibly Dave Shea have simply chosen a license that does not suit their needs. Oops. Its not a big problem though. Contributers to Zen Garden just need to be aware of what the license entails.

Would a GPL or similar license ( be a more suitable choice for allowing the use and reuse of code but not the design?

Joel said on March 22, 2004 2:02 PM

Quite true, Jay, Creative Commons is not at fault, it is fine for people who want to place their work in the public domain. Of course, copyright then merely becomes the tacit acknowledgement that you created it, your actual “rights” you have given away by such generous license. In this sense it is similar to the “anti-copyright” statement anarchists used to place on their writings enabling anyone to print them freely. After the course of time some of their writings became “fashionable” and profit-making big publishers decided to include their work in anthologies over and over again. They didn’t have to pay the author anything because they had given their work away. The fact that they originally intended their work to be used freely by small anarchist fanzine editors was neither here nor there, the letter of the law is what determines it, not the spirit of the original intent.

If nothing else, keeping control of your work can prevent uses of it you had not foreseen and which you do not think much of. But of course, people who want to place their work in the public domain to be used as templates as anyone sees fit should be praised for their generosity, if this is indeed the original intent of the majority of the CSS Zen Garden designers, which somehow I doubt.

Jay Pettitt said on March 22, 2004 3:02 PM

pesky anarchists :-)

Brian G said on March 22, 2004 7:27 PM

Wow, this is an utter disappointment. Sub:Lime was one of my favourite CSS Zen Garden designs, and taking it down is a shame.

I’ve been inspired by quite a few Zen Garden submissions, my own personal site, has a theme that was inspired by Zunflower (the theme is called “Cloudshine” in honour of Zunflower). I’ve picked apart several Zen Garden submissions (including sub:Lime), and have loved the experience.

I intend to add one or two sumbmissions to the project, and if they get stolen by hacks, I’ll accept it as a casualty in the war of ideas.

With all due respect to Andy, I feel that if I wanted to create something that would never be copied, I’d make it, and keep it on my local hard drive. If it’s out there, it’s gonna be stolen, because after all, imitation (or outright theft) is the sincerest form of flattery.

Derek said on March 23, 2004 6:50 AM

I understand why Andy pulled his design because of discomfort with the CC Share Alike license, now only the ripoffs are widely available on the Web, which doesn’t help much.

As I noted on my own site over the weekend, perhaps the best parallel here is the fashion industry. Oddly enough, clothing designs (i.e. the cut and shape of a garment) cannot generally be copyrighted, while the design pattern of a fabric (i.e. flowers, stripes, etc.) sometimes can be.

So, the fashion industry is rife with knock-offs. But fashion designers continue to make money, and come up with new designs all the time. Even if someone rips off a designer’s original CSS layout, that doesn’t make the original designer less talented, and doesn’t prevent him or her from coming up with better designs in the future. It also doesn’t automatically make the site created with ripped-off CSS as good as or better than the original, because the original design was made for a specific purpose that the knock-off isn’t.

Similarly, other companies can try to copy the iPod all they like (within the bounds of copyright and patent law and Apple’s ferocious lawyers), but by the time they come out with a good-enough knock-off, Apple will have a new iPod Mini (or whatever) that is superior.

The balance of copyright law, and the idea of respect for creativity, is to reward the creator for new, innovative work. The few leeches who rip off designs wholesale (and contrary to licenses, or at least without respect to the creators) might even help there, because they encourage the original designers not to rest on their laurels, and to come up with work that beats the pants off their older material that is getting copied.

Steve said on March 23, 2004 12:44 PM

Egocentric, ignorant, uncool pull out. The self centered over-glorification of a trivial original design. Abject lack of understanding of the Zen in the Garden. Andy’s gone way down in every estimation that counts.

Unenlightened: If any clearer signal were needed, now it is obvious. Your designs can not even pretend to posses anything more than echos of your superficial self serving intent and hollow individual sentiment. But then that’s not really a surprise to me.

Call yourself a designer? Sorry, your just not qualified, note carefully who comes out in support.. and avoid them. Pretenders all.

Dave said on March 23, 2004 4:15 PM

I have to say Andy, that I have followed your blog for many months and wholeheartedly agreed with you on the Wired Sussex debate. However, I can’t agree more with Steve, that pulling your design is egocentric and uncool.

I mean, it’s one design! It’s not like someone has the ability go out there and steal all of your creative energy and future designs.

To top it all off, Zen Garden has given you publicity and recognition internationally that you would have never had otherwise. Here’s a website that was just awarded the most inspirational and instructive website for web developers and you’ve taken your name off the list of top designers on the site, I’m baffled.

Phil Baines said on March 23, 2004 5:09 PM

Andy, I understand why you feel you had to pull the design, but as the others had already said; Surly the damage is done. It is already out in the public domain now.

On another matter, I already thought that the CC licence only gave us the right to use the CSS, and not the design. Sure I didn’t check, but it seemed to me to be common sense. The design is the designers work. It would be unethical to copy someone else’s design.

So, I understand why you also would have thought that way when you submitted the design. But we were both wrong. Bummer - but done now.

I was thinking about trying my hands at a design also, but if the design work is up for grabs I think I would rather not. However, if the CC license is changed so that only the CSS techniques used are free to copy, then I will go ahead.

I guess we will have to see what Dave S says about that one.

Just:lime said on March 23, 2004 10:31 PM

“The reason I chose to remove my design is because the license it’s been released under actively encourages this kind of copying.”

Of course - this is a reality you must embrace, I believe your exit is short sighted and I will tell you why.

Consider this.

There are growing numbers of sparkling eyed designers of every race, nationality and creed turning on to CSS; each one imagines the possibilities, each one seeks to distinguish themselves. Many, many, will :without your help or assistance: create, sell and giveaway designs superior in scope and just as elegant as sub:lime.

Donating something to the public domain has its benefits; and the act of giving (whilst enough for some) is not the end of it. The creator distinguishes him/herself from the many talented money loving egotistical opportunists out there, those camoflaged self loving societal slime; the sub:amoebas, the primped up suited pocket pickers, the ones you’d like to think you could spot in a crowd but probably couldn’t.

Character of the kind demonstrated in deed by the generous donation of time is worth something. It greets the people that hear of and hire you with the knowledge that you have made a contribution, one that was imbued with confidence, grace and understanding, that you planted a seed in the garden… In essence, that you gave something back.

How wrong is it then, when you resent that act, and would chase the kids that eat the apples from “your” tree. Why do you think the garden works at all? Just for you? Can’t you see the bigger picture?

The price demanded from others for giving a similar gift would be far less than #46 on that list of eminence. I think that history would have awarded you greater recognition had you possessed the insight to remain there.

The worst of it in my mind is that you pay the others moderate insult. Self-justified and ready to ‘defend’ what they somehow would not. Nonsense. There is no injury except that manifested within your unprepared psyche. I suggest that dignity plays a different game to that demonstrated here; and somewhere on your line of reasoning you are are in error.

Perhaps it is not too late to save your place..?

Carina said on March 23, 2004 10:50 PM

A number of people have mentioned “public domain”. The CSS Zen Garden is a fabulous resource so it would be a shame if any designer became reluctant to contribute due to a misguided belief that their copyright will have to be given up. So let’s clear the air before more exceptional designs wind up being lost to us. “Copyleft” licenses like the GPL and Creative Commons often get confused with public domain, but they’re not the same. In fact, licensing and public domain are mutually exclusive. Public domain means that the work has no copyright protection (for example, because the copyright period has expired or because the rights holder has deliberately surrendered the work into the public domain, though there are other ways works enter the public domain too). Whereas any license necesarily depends on the existance of a copyright; the rights holder uses a license to express which of his/her rights are extended to others and under what conditions. That’s all the CC and other licenses do. They don’t put the work into the public domain, because then there’d be no rights to control/license. Richard Stallman came up with the notion of “copyleft” because he felt that aim of copyright law was being subverted (e.g. in the U.S. Constitution, the stated purpose is to promote progress in the arts and sciences) by those who used their rights as a sort of weapon to prevent knowledge from being shared and expanded upon. The notion behind a copyleft license like CC is that copyright is instead used as a shield to ensure that it’s the open access to knowledge which cannot be subverted.

(I’m not a lawyer, by the way. But there’s plenty of public info available about these issues from expert sources including your country’s copyright office,, and

The Share Alike license is extremely permissive. Personally, I don’t see how any of the Garden’s educational value would be lost by adding an attribution restriction. From a designer’s perspective, I’d certainly feel more comfortable submitting if there that very reasonable and modest limitation on the current license. If someone wants to borrow another person’s creative output, simply giving credit to the original author doesn’t seem a very high price to ask. If adding Non-Commercial inspires more designers to share their vision and technique too, then yes please let’s make that an option for them!

Andy, it’s regrettable that this person felt no compunction about claiming your effort and creativity as his own. However, it does seem as though the Share Alike licence permits this as long as he passed on a copy of the Share Alike license to the client (?). If re-use as described by Share Alike was unacceptable, then why didn’t/don’t you just post it somewhere as an “All Rights Reserved” unofficial design rather than accept the Garden’s condition of CC licensing?

Dave, rather than change the license for the whole Garden (I wonder if that’s even possible from a legal standpoint—to rescind a permissive license in favor of a more restrictive one?), would it be possible to somehow incorporate an option for future submissions to be released under the CC license of their choice? That way those who are cool with lettting their work be freely re-used can continue to use Share Alike. I realize that any change to the Garden now, just when you’re looking to get out, presents complications for you. But I figured it was at least worth asking.

Franck said on March 24, 2004 12:44 PM

Let’s think positive for a while:

The bigger the CSS design community is, the better their works get recognition, the more clients will ask for standard compliant designs, the best a long-term CSS designer will be positioned to gain a new client.

That the point to me, when submiting one of your design to the CSS ZEN GARDEN or similar show case/contest. The opportunity is much bigger than the risk of being ripped off. It’s a contribution to the community, and also an investment for your future. Licenses have very few things to deal with that.

We need attractive, practical example-based & sexy sites that lobbies for the general use of the CSS. The CSS Zen Garden is a brilliant idea and a successfull running project.

Visitors can grab & learn, designers present in the garden get recognition (when otherwise only their neighbours & gran-parents would have been pleased to have a chance to see their beautifull designs), and if they were already known they get even stronger name recognition. WIN-WIN.

I know that this is a sensible/hot subject, but I don’t see the need to be that agressive with Andy. Don’t make it personal.

Bottom line:

I personaly thinks that it is a pity that the “sub:lime” design is gone. Never to late to have it resurrected, neither to submit a “sub:lime2 the return”.

Richard Rutter said on March 24, 2004 1:55 PM

Sorry to hear about you removing sub:lime from the CSS Zen Garden. I sympathise with you - it must be a real pain having your design passed off as someone else’s.

I can understand Dave Shea being a bit miffed at having to remove your design, but I do think that a non-commercial clause should be added to the CSS Zen Garden. The purpose of CZG to my mind is to showcase the capabilities and possibilities of CSS and thereby provide a compendium of inspiration not free CSS templates for the masses.

Martin said on March 26, 2004 2:01 PM


I understand and sympathise that you feel cheated as a result of someone “stealing” your design. However, I think the act of removing your design as a result illustrates a real holier-than-thou attitude.

The point of adding to CSSZenGarden is to illustrate the importance of CSS-based design and help other designers benefit, and your petulant attitude has hindered this. It seems that you saw the Garden as a one-way street - a way to advance your career and raise your own profile. The fact that you have taken away a valuable resource for designers does not seem to have been taken into consideration.

Andy Budd said on March 26, 2004 7:03 PM

Interesting that most of the negative comments are coming from people using fake email addresses. I’m more than happy to take public criticism, but at least have the strength of mind to stand by your posts.

Jay Pettitt said on March 26, 2004 7:05 PM

talking of creative commons and things in the public domain…

phil baines said on March 29, 2004 11:52 AM

From CSSZenGarden:
From CSSZenGarden:

“You retain full copyright on your graphics (with limited exceptions, see submission guidelines), but we ask you release your CSS under a Creative Commons license identical to the one on this site so that others may learn from your work.”
Does this mean that Dave S has changed the license?

If so, then I think I might consider it again.

Would Andy re-submit sub:lime under this agreement?