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Is it OK to copy somebody's HTML?
thrasher141




msg:3519519
 7:16 pm on Dec 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

I have a question on the legality and ethics of copying HTML and/or CSS from another site. Here is the scenario: I find a website whose general layout and design is appealing to me and I notice that the HTML is nice and clean. I copy all the source HTML, as well as the CSS file. I change ALL the content to my own content, text, images, etc. I make some tweaks to the CSS to modify the colors, background images, and fonts.

Is this OK? All the content is my own, but I have used the HTML/CSS framework that somebody else wrote. I haven't done this, just pondering the question. I don't think I would mind if somebody did this to me.

Is HTML and CSS copyrightable?

 

randle




msg:3520471
 10:16 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

I copy all the source HTML, as well as the CSS file.

If you really want to know if theirs anything wrong with copying someone else’s html, (or better yet some css that the guy really had to break his chops on) for your own use, how about asking them?

That’s the best way I can think of to determine if this practice is ok or not.

jtara




msg:3520473
 10:20 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

Correct that HTML (or any other markup language) is not "computer code".

For purposes of copyright, the U.S. Copyright Office says that it is. See the reference I posted above.

lavazza




msg:3520474
 10:31 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

I suspect that fears of litigation are somewhat exaggerated, given that the US IRS seems incapable of using the law to prevent blatant copying of its sites

[irs.gov...]

IRS Warns Taxpayers of New E-mail Scams

Updated Nov. 7, 2007 — In a variation, an e-mail scam claims to come from the IRS and the Taxpayer Advocate Service (a genuine and independent organization within the IRS whose employees assist taxpayers with unresolved tax problems). The e-mail says that the recipient is eligible for a tax refund and directs the recipient to click on a link that leads to a fake IRS Web site. The IRS recommends that recipients do not click on links in, or open any attachments to, e-mails they receive that are unsolicited or that come from unknown sources.


jmatthew3




msg:3520475
 10:41 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

Works produced by the government are not subject to copyright -- so the IRS can't go after them (at least not through copyright)

Also, as has been mentioned, HTML is limited in what it can do. To the extent that "in order to represent this, i have to use this series of tags" the work is (generally) not protected.

To the extent that the mixing up of tags is somehow an original and minimally creative expression of an idea and does not grant the author an undue monopoly on an idea, then the html is (generally) subject to copyright.

iblaine




msg:3520476
 10:43 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

jmatthew3, great answer to a silly question.

weeks




msg:3520479
 10:45 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

Josefu said:
...but that doesn't mean it's right.

That's my problem. Put the legal issues aside for a moment (Please!)

The solution is easy. Ask the author. If they say no, it's ok. If they say yes, you're in the clear.

How you ask is important. And, yes, who you ask is important as well. Some may be honored, others might think their design is special to the web.

That's the ethical thing to do. Try it and let us know what response you get.

BillyS




msg:3520529
 11:37 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

We're rendering colors, rectangles, and text. Tweak a color, change a rectangle, add original content and you're off and running.

rocknbil




msg:3520573
 12:35 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Bil and Bee I wonder how many shopping cart products do you use? How many of those have you written yourselves?

I'm sorry to disappoint you Demaestro, in my case the answer is NONE and ALL. Every single cart I write is original code, I have never done a copy and paste and published it. Ever. BUT - I have learned LOADS from viewing source, downloading scripts, examining methods, this is how we get things done.

It doesn't appear you digested the content of my post, let me reiterate here:

Those that would argue this are probably under the impression they have created something that has never been done before, and are most likely to jump in here and cry copyright. But the truth is, any chunk of html or CSS you copy from a site is likely to be out there in duplicate thousands of times.

Srirangan




msg:3520673
 4:58 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I would be very surprised if this was true. I don't know how you could copyright code.

Creat a table in HTML:
<table>
<tr><td></td></tr>
</table>

OK, I declare I own that. You cannot use it without my permission.

I also own
<div></div>

and
<ul>
<li></li>
</ul>

or is it only for ALL things that are between BODY tags?

<body>
<div id="container">
<div id="leftnav"></div>
<div id="content"></div>
</div>
</body>

I don't think you can copyright it, since there are limited ways in which you can code pages. That goes for CSS and JavaScript as well.

Chip-


Going by this logic it would be impossible to copyright literary text because the English language contains only 26 alphabet and alphabet can't be copyrighted..

Html and Css that I produce is my property. I don't own Html tags, but I own the combination of Html tags that I created for my website.

In the end, is it okay to copy Html and Css - No, unless the author decides otherwise.

[edited by: Srirangan at 4:59 am (utc) on Dec. 5, 2007]

adfree




msg:3520727
 8:14 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I approached a website owner once for permission to copy some html and css code. Offering a win/win situation without any competitive implication helped him to provide limited permission in writing.

Talking always helps, making someone happy does too. Neither of the two or none yielding fruit? Forget it and move on.

You can always point a programmer into that direction and have code developed for you based on an example.

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3520731
 8:27 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Bil and Bee I wonder how many shopping cart products do you use? How many of those have you written yourselves?

Off the top of my head? I have written none but as I recall I have used three. I bought two of them and the other was open source so copyright does not come into this equation.

canthavejust1




msg:3520766
 9:57 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I can't pass this one up.

A few years ago I was checking my inbound links and found a link from one of my fervent competitors.
I thought, "No. He would NEVER link to me."

So I went to his page and immediately realized his page was set up similar to mine, graphics and all. But I saw no link to my site.

Then I viewed his source code and did a search for my URL. Lo and behold, I found it:

"Copyright 2005 www.MySite.com"

I guess you could say he got a bit sloppy with his copy/pasting.

[edited by: canthavejust1 at 10:06 am (utc) on Dec. 5, 2007]

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3520770
 9:59 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

This subject comes up so often and I have never yet found a definitive answer so let's try to analyse it based strictly on what the US copyright office says.

They define a computer program as follows.

DEFINITION
A “computer program” is a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result.

It would seem to me that HTML and CSS are sets of statements or instructions as defined above so they could or would be classed as a program in this context. They are designed to "bring about a certain result" by putting a display on the screen just like "Hello World" did in BASIC.

They define the extent of the protection as follows.

EXTENT OF COPYRIGHT PROTECTION
Copyright protection extends to all the copyrightable expression embodied in the computer program. Copyright protection is not available for ideas, program logic, algorithms, systems, methods, concepts, or layouts.

The above clearly states that the copyright does not extend to concepts so that while the CSS and HTML may be classed as a program the logic, ideas and concepts cannot be copyrighted. Note that I am not suggesting that images and colour schemes are included in this, only the code.

To re-emphasise...

* ideas
* program logic
* algorithms
* systems
* methods
* concepts
* layouts

None of them covered!

Doesn't this specifically tell me that I am free to copy the ideas, logic and algorithms from within a program or programs and use them for myself?

Jmatthew3 I know you suggested otherwise and I would happily bow to your greater knowledge so what are your thoughts on this? Isn't law determined by legal precedent? If so there must surely be many cases on records of people who have been sued for copying website layouts. I mean there are billions of web pages around so one would assume that if it's an infringement it must have happened before? I did a search but I have not been able to find a single case and I suspect that there are none because it is not an infringement.

What I did find both in here and elsewhere are many people who seem to think that it is OK to copy a layout as long as you start from scratch and write your own CSS or whatever. They seem to forget that the end result is what is being displayed on screen. That is what you are copying so come on, think about it guys. The fact that you have the skills to throw a few lines of CSS together to achieve this does not exactly change things does it? You are still copying someone else's ideas.

I am not taking sides here but the lack of evidence to the contrary clearly suggests that there is not much you can do if someone copies your layout. The whole software industry is based on people using and often improving on other people's ideas and code.

le_gber




msg:3520780
 10:21 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Just adding my £0.02.

If I spent 4 or more hours getting a CSS layout right I would be very crossed if I found someone had 'pinched' the whole code without asking. There are hundreds of ways of coding a website, but there are only a handful 'right' ways of doing so. I mean right in the sense of using clean, semantic HTML with clean minimal CSS. Proving that it's mine wouldn't be that hard either especially if you didn't change the id's and div names. Additionally, people usually use the same naming convention so if you code all your sites using

<div id="my_id_name5" class="another_useful_class6"></div>

how would you explain than the one I think you pinched you used

<div id="fl" class="cs"></div>

Also we could look at the CSS and it's easy to find a matching pattern between stylesheets, making it easier to 'prove' that you pinched the code.

As it's been advised before, I would also ask the code owner (not the site owner as they may be two different people), if you really want the code. He may ask for a link in return, which I think is the minimum if you take someone else code. But don't copy any graphics, that's something that could get your site dropped by your ISP.

Can we stop calling a markup language(HTML), computer code... it is not a programming language.
HTML is code that is interpreted by computers, so it is computer code. I am not saying it's a programming language, but it's definitely a computer code.

yosmc




msg:3520790
 10:40 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Going by this logic it would be impossible to copyright literary text because the English language contains only 26 alphabet and alphabet can't be copyrighted..
Html and Css that I produce is my property. I don't own Html tags, but I own the combination of Html tags that I created for my website.

In the end, is it okay to copy Html and Css - No, unless the author decides otherwise.


Yay, finally someone who got it right.

What is also strangely overlooked in this thread is the difference between what is needed to make html "work" vs. the exact "wording". Remember that code is treated more or less like literary work, so from a copyright perspective there's quite a difference between:

<table><tr><td></td></tr></table>

and

<table>
<tr><span>
<td>
</td> </tr></table>

[EDIT: Example 2 contained weird spacing that got lost in the post.] I suppose from a technical side, the two pieces of code do the same thing. However, while the first example really just represents the "idea" of a table, the second example (buggy and poor as it is) is already an identifyable piece of code (not saying that anyone can win a lawsuit over it, but when I find it in the source code of a competitor's website, I know what's been going on).

In literary work, you can find identical sentences in entirely different books (needless to say that they are not stolen). Identical paragraphs or pages are something else though, and even if a handful of words have been replaced, it's still copyright infringement.

mikedee




msg:3520803
 11:07 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

HTML is not an idea! It is written code which has taken someone a lot of time and effort to get into a condition that you like the look of.

It does not come freely to the company who owns the website and it does not come freely to the coder who wrote it.

Just taking the work and trying to validate your decision by trying to convince people that it is not copyrightable is just wrong.

My next post will be entitled 'Blog spam - is it OK to copy?'. I mean - its not like they are very original or I could not pay someone to come up with it myself. I promise to change some words so its not a total copy. I just don't have the time, money or skill to write good copy and there is so much available free on the internets, its too hard to resist.

Also if anyone is interested I have a few new books out (just by small authors so I should be ok - right?)... They are fiction so its only ideas which I am copying... As we all know ideas are not copyrightable. My first novel is called 'Champion of the Rings' - its a fantastic story, maybe similar to one you have heard before, but what the hell books are all the same anyway.

gaouzief




msg:3520805
 11:11 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

swa66, isn't this an expression of "artwork":

div{
background-color:somecolor;
}
div h1{
color:someothercolor;
}

so if i understand you correctly, if someone uses a combination of background and font color, no one else can use that combination again, because it is considered an expression of their artwork?

How about me, generating all possible combinations of background, front color, borders in css, putting that on a page and claiming copyright over the whole web...

This logic does not make sense

mikedee




msg:3520809
 11:20 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

gaouzief: Why don't you read the original post. He is not talking about copying some example code, he is talking about ripping an entire site. Your example is like saying 'Harry Potter' contains the words 'and then Harry', therefore its not copyrightable because then nobody could use those three words together again.

Any moderately complex design will have CSS and HTML that is far more complex, there are billions of different permutations of possible code. Possibly more than with the English language.

jbinbpt




msg:3520816
 11:31 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

There was this discussion a while back Law Firm Uses Copyright Claim To Say You Can't View Its Website's HTML [webmasterworld.com]

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3520821
 11:37 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think I am going to have to point to this again. ;)

EXTENT OF COPYRIGHT PROTECTION
Copyright protection extends to all the copyrightable expression embodied in the computer program. Copyright protection is not available for ideas, program logic, algorithms, systems, methods, concepts, or layouts.

I also note that no has yet been able to provide an example of someone (anyone) who won a copyright infringement case for copying HTML or CSS? Whether you like it or not it looks like it cannot be done.

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3520827
 11:52 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I just checked the Copyright site again and they specifically state that , "Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration" are not protected by copyright.

Ideas? Procedures? Methods? Processes?

Is it not the case that CSS and HTML is composed of all of the above?

mikedee




msg:3520835
 11:59 am on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Ideas? Procedures? Methods? Processes?

Is it not the case that CSS and HTML is composed of all of the above?

Err no.... Simply put it is not any of those, it is written work. Try printing off the source code of this page and tell me its just an idea.

Procedure? Method? Process? NO - its not any of those, you might use procedures, methods or processes to create HTML+CSS but that does not mean the finished work is a method.

Why don't you try an experiment?

Register htmlandcsscannotbecopyrighted.com - then copy and paste the html and css from major websites and see how long it is before you get a C&D. I don't think it would be very long. Make sure you write to each company and TELL (not ask) them that you are taking their code. I think we would see some precedent then.

mikedee




msg:3520837
 12:03 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

jbinbpt: That was a different issue relating to your right to view the source code, I think legally they were right, but practically they are stupid.

We are talking about copying and representing someone elses work.

BDW - Why don't you copy their HTML and see what happens (let me know the url and Ill forward it to them). They are up for prosecuting someone and you are up for testing the boundaries. Oh yeah, when taking HTML - make sure you only take from people who are unlikely or unable to take action. Nice.

callivert




msg:3520838
 12:04 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Ideas? Procedures? Methods? Processes?
Is it not the case that CSS and HTML is composed of all of the above?

Yes, but it is also composed of actual words and symbols, that someone put a lot of work into. That final string of code is the thing that is protected, not the ideas that went into it.

The same applies to books, movies, etc. You can't copyright an idea (e.g., "boy goes to magician school") but you can copyright an instance of that idea (Harry Potter).
You can't copyright a procedure, method, or process, ("changing the spark plugs on your car") but you can copyright a description of that procedure (An auto manual).

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3520841
 12:26 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

BDW - Why don't you copy their HTML and see what happens

Because I am not sufficiently motivated to do this. Why not do it yourself? It was your idea. ;)

As I said before, I am not taking sides. I just think that it is very strange that there do not seem to be any records of successful law suits related to this. Has it happened? If not why not?

Ethically I cannot really see much difference between copying (stealing if you like) someone's layout from scratch and just using the source code. The end result is the same, i.e. the blagged layout is displayed online.

dBook




msg:3520843
 12:27 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

[yahoo.com...]
[aol.com...]

mikedee




msg:3520851
 12:44 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Ethically I cannot really see much difference between copying (stealing if you like) someone's layout from scratch and just using the source code. The end result is the same, i.e. the blagged layout is displayed online.

Copying is not stealing, its copyright infringement. Stealing is where you deprive someone of the thing stolen when you take it. Record labels will tell you copying == stealing but it isn't.

The aol vs yahoo example is good, the sites look similar, but they are _not_ copied. AOL renders really badly on Firefox whilst yahoo has the extra effort to make it work in all browsers. View the source, they are totally different.

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3520900
 1:51 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

The end result is the same, i.e. the blagged layout is displayed online.

mikedee




msg:3520903
 2:01 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Its not the same, the layout is not copyrightable but the code is.

There is a very big difference between aol and yahoo even though the layouts are the same. Yahoo must have paid thousands for the HTML code, why should someone be able to take it just because in their opinion 'the result is the same'. There is a big difference in the results even when given the same layout. Thats why the original poster likes certain sites (the ones who have spent time with their HTML).

In answer to the original question, its not legal or ethical to take someone elses HTML without asking. The mob cannot tell the difference so they recon you should just take it since its unlikely the person you are taking it off will have the money to sue you.

There are plenty of WYSIWYG HTML editors, just use one of those (you should use Word, I hear its all the same anyway). Do not copy someones hand-coded HTML, its rude and illegal.

By saying the end result is the same is like saying that all books about young wizards are the same so its OK to copy Harry Potter (changing the odd word) because its the same result as if you had just written your own version (kinda).

gaouzief




msg:3520957
 3:42 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

mikedee, i don't think we are talking about ethics here, how do sort out this matter with respect to the law?

some post suggested earlier that layout was not protected by copyright but code is.

Ok, sort this out please:

1- I print screen yahoo.com, edit the picture with photoshop to change the yahoo logo and trademark references, stick the big image file into html, use the <map> tag to create links on the single image, now the layout is identical but the code is totally different, am i infringing on yahoo's copyright?

2- I copy yahoo's html/css inside an editor and change it to produce my own layout based on yahoo's logical approach (columns, boxes etc...), now the layout is totally different but the code is quiet similiar, am i infringing on yahoo's copyright?

chewy




msg:3520958
 3:43 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

this particular road is endless.

please, where does one find GPL / Open Source website templates and CSS files?

If we are so good to understand this, can we please do something about it?

If I had a site that worked well enough to fit this model, and the client agreed this was a good thing to do, I most certainly would be happy to display a well understood SEO friendly word on the site so that like minded webmasters could find and use and possibly even enhance the code.

has anyone done this yet? Hasn't everyone read "The Cathedral and the Bazzar?"

let's pay this forward, rather than hashing it out again as hashing will get us only so far.

[edited by: chewy at 4:10 pm (utc) on Dec. 5, 2007]

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