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 www.oswd.org, 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