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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?

 

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]

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3520967
 3:57 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

the layout is not copyrightable

By layout I mean the full package, which would include the colours used. I believe that this can come under "Trade Dress" and I think it can be copyrightable.

The OP asked if it was legal. If it is illegal then it must be recorded somewhere. I would be happy to settle this one way or another, as I'm sure the OP would.

My involvement in this thread has led me to try to find information about copyright infringement related to CSS an HTML. On this forum and several others I have came across people claiming that it is an infringement to copy the source code and use it for your own purposes. I have also come across many others who refute this.

All I am asking is that those who are certain that it is an infringement point us to the evidence. Is that too much to ask? Robert Burns wrote, "Facts are chiels that winna ding!" meaning that while facts cannot be disputed opinions most certainly can.

Edited: Typo

[edited by: BeeDeeDubbleU at 4:17 pm (utc) on Dec. 5, 2007]

carguy84




msg:3520974
 4:06 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

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

Maybe I'm under-analyzing this, but exactly how do you layout a page without HTML? If the layout of a page is not copyrightable, then HTML is not copyrightable. If someone was to take my HTML and my CSS (which has been done), and use it to create a totally different site with totally different colors and content, I don't see how I'd have any legal footing. Nor would/do I care and I know I've implemented browser fixes in the past that hadn't been solved yet.

But a browser fix is nothing more than an idea and program logic.

Chip-

Anolonda




msg:3520980
 4:10 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think the more important question, thrasher, is:
"What did you learn while reverse engineering the code?"

Were you able to see what specifically made that site appealing to you? Were you able to see in the code what created a layout that caught your attention?

caine




msg:3521009
 4:37 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I err on the side of caution on condeming or saluting the originator and the copier(s) as idea's in there very purest forms are usually a mish-mash of other idea's from many originators. However - it stinks being copied, and i have personally experience of all my well thought out plans being replicated within a couple of months on competitors websites, and it ain't nice. Heed the warning if you copy then don't complain when you get your idea's and content robbed.

Murdoch




msg:3521031
 5:08 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Well I just figured I'd make a standpoint on the two issues at hand here...

MORALLY:

You should definitely ask first, though honestly I wish more people would just copy clean code, it certainly would fix plenty of the terribly built sites out there.

LEGALLY:

I kind of compare it to the legalities of the music industry - i.e.

Sampling is to music as cut and paste is to websites - ILLEGAL if the sample is big enough to prove it was copied.

Playing a riff that is similar to another on your own guitar is to music as looking at a layout/program and trying to write it yourself is to websites - LEGAL

Playing a riff that is similar and using lyrics that are similar and a drumbeat that is similar is to music as rewriting code, rewriting content and editing images is to websites - ILLEGAL if proven in court that the basis of the website built is similar enough to the defendants website.

Anyway, that's what I get from it. Otherwise unless you can disprove Bee's apparently valid legal precedent, then that's really how it is.

mikedee




msg:3521039
 5:16 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

By layout I mean the full package, which would include the colours used. I believe that this can come under "Trade Dress" and I think it can be copyrightable.

Maybe this falls under trademark, you cannot copyright something intangible like the general look and feel. Coke almost certainly has the coke red and white swoosh trademarked, not copyrighted. The actual art for the can is copyright (originally owned by the designer, but signed over to Coke in the employment contract).

The OP asked if it was legal. If it is illegal then it must be recorded somewhere. I would be happy to settle this one way or another, as I'm sure the OP would.

Anything that anyone writes automatically has their copyright. You cannot copy it without their express consent. Your argument is that somehow HTML does not require enough skill to be copyrightable, therefore it somehow comes under an exception.

Everything has automatic copyright and its only removed for things that have absolutely no artistic content (ie facts), or if they are signed away.

How do the normal laws of copyright NOT apply? A website with the words and pictures replaced is a derived work and is covered in the same way as the original.

[portal.unesco.org...]

I think its probably cheaper to just get someone to do the HTML than to hire lawyers to read through all this and come to the same conclusion.

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3521074
 6:01 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Your argument is that somehow HTML does not require enough skill to be copyrightable, therefore it somehow comes under an exception.

That's my argument? Really? If i said that I don't remember where or when. I will admit that I do enjoy a decent argument but only when I am allowed to speak for myself.

It's not really a skill issue either. A computer program or computer code can be copyrighted, of that there is no doubt. My argument is actually that there is no definition of what exactly constitutes an original work in HTML/CSS and this is one that is not clearly defined. Perhaps this is why no one ever appears to have been sued for using someone else's layout.

Let's say that I create the following page.


<!-- This is copyright BDW 2007 -->
<head>
<style type="text/css">
<!--
.style1 {font-size: 10px; font-weight: bold; color: #FF0000; }
-->
</style>
</head>
<body>
<span class="style1"> Hello my big wyde World!</span>
</body>
</html>

I would be willing to bet that this is a completely original work that no one has ever produced before. If someone who hasn't got a clue takes this and reproduces it elsewhere including my comment then it would be evident that they copied it from my website but does it constitute a copyright infringement?

I don't think so. My point is where does the line get drawn?

Dabrowski




msg:3521091
 6:14 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

By layout I mean the full package, which would include the colours used. I believe that this can come under "Trade Dress" and I think it can be copyrightable.

I think it would be the style that was copyright, not the layout. I'm sure a car manufacturer couldn't get away with copyrighting a machine with 4 wheels and an engine, then trying to claim all other manufacturers were in breach of this.

I belive like patents, you can't copyright an idea, theory, or method as such, but you can copyright the code that makes it work.

Like, you couldn't copyright the idea of a device that makes a sound when a button by your door is pressed, but you can copyright an actual doorbell device.

mikedee




msg:3521101
 6:22 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

That's my argument? Really? If i said that I don't remember where or when. I will admit that I do enjoy a decent argument but only when I am allowed to speak for myself.

Sorry, maybe not you but thats the general tone (ie. somehow copyright does not apply here.

Your example is intentionally simple and would be classed as too simple and obvious to copyright, but look at the source code of this page or any other real-world site.

The rules are basically that everything has copyright attached. If you think someone is infringing on your copyright then you can ask them to stop. If they still do not stop or if they made money from your copyright then you can take them to court.

The judge then decides in each case if there has been an infringement or not.

The telephone book was copyrighted until this case, [en.wikipedia.org...]

I doubt a judge would rule that an entire website copied with the images and text changed was not an infringement. Nobody has come up with a reason why it should not be covered.

The only 'argument' is that <b>hello</b> cannot be copyrighted therefore neither can the entire site. I personally do not think that would get you very far. Its like arguing that there are only a certain number of words in the dictionary and therefore anyone who writes anything is just 'copy & pasting' from other works, since you can always find common words/phrases between books or songs.

The question is still why would normal copyright not apply to anything more complex than an example?

Is HTML to simple to be copyrighted? If so then C code is too, I mean I could write code like this..

int i;
for (i=0;i<10;i++){
printf('hello %i\n', i);
}

Your argument is : Nobody could copyright that so I don't see how any code can be copyrighted, I just copy bits and pieces to make my program... I mean I only take code from small open source projects, they show their code so they must be OK with me taking it for my own use.

thrasher141




msg:3521102
 6:28 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Wow, this really got bigger than I expected. I think the best thing to do is to ask the owner of the site I'm wanting to copy. I think legal action is unlikely, I'm much more worried about being rude and offending someone. So I will ask. If I hear back soon I will post here.

Demaestro




msg:3521139
 7:39 pm 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

Agreed

Let's bring XML into the discussion.

How many here have created an original RSS feed with original tag names?

How many have found an XML feed for RSS and copy the tags removed content and replaced their own? Is this against the copyright of the roiginal creator of the feed?

Can someone own the rights to

<rss version="0.91">

<channel>

<title>WebmasterWorld</title>
<link>http://www.webmasterworld.com</link>
<description>News and Discussion for the Web Professional</description>
<language>en-us</language>

<image>
<title>WebmasterWorld!</title>
<url>http://www.webmasterworld.com/gfx/WebmasterWorldbutton.gif</url>
<link>http://www.webmasterworld.com</link>
<width>109</width>
<height>33</height>

</image>

<item>
<title></title>
<link></link>
<description></description>
</item>

If I copy this and put in my own info... have I now ripped of WebmasterWorld's XML structure?

So why is it bad if I do it with HTML? XML and HTML are the same thing.

incrediBILL




msg:3521162
 8:05 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I've had a couple of idiots rip off site layouts but what they did was bad enough I was able to shut them down. Both sites had very unique custom designed graphics in the layout and the layout wouldn't work without those graphics. I just claimed my copyright to the graphics and not the layout itself and had a receipt and affidavit from the designer documenting the fact that he created those images and shot 'em a nice DMCA.

One of the guys said something I found amusing: "I'm sure these aren't stolen because my webmaster is the nicest guy you ever met, someone from my local church."

To which I countered: "Did your webmaster sleep through the part in church when they discussed THOU SHALT NOT STEAL?"

The other idiots actually stole a site layout to use building an actual competing site with the same colors and look - there was no doubt it would cause customer confusion so I nuked them until they glowed.

BTW, how I caught these people is they were SO STUPID they left my Live Person code in the HTML so I could see the pages loading on a different server, including the machines they were designing the site on which made a good paper trail to prove who did the actual dirty deed.

[edited by: incrediBILL at 8:07 pm (utc) on Dec. 5, 2007]

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3521181
 8:35 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Your argument is : Nobody could copyright that so I don't see how any code can be copyrighted,

You're doing it again. Can I please state my own case without your interpretation? ;oŽ

Read again, what I actually said was, "where does the line get drawn?"

Demaestro




msg:3521224
 10:03 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Bill ^^

That story is gross... I don't blame you for that, I would do the same. I mean they didn't even try to make the site uniquely their own.

The TS is talking about changing images, content and colors which to me isn't as bad... some complex layouts that have sliced images will be impossible to reuse without using the same images but that isn't what I am defending.

A funny side story Bill...

One of my sites has complex products with long descriptions. So i made some nice PDFs up on my own for product description/user manual for the products.

A lady who had a competing site with the same products as me starting linking my PDFs from her site for use on her site for the same product descriptions.

She didn't even save the PDFs and host them herself she just "hot-linked" the ones from my site. I of course notice all the PDFs being called from another site so I looked to see what she had done.

I found that she wasn't even opening the PDF in a new window. Great I thought, so I wrote an access rule for the PDFs that if they were called from her site that it would do a redirect to some new .HTML product description pages that I whipped up. I even went so far as to style them like her site, I didn't rip her images or anything... just gave it the feel.

It was seamless, when her customers clicked on the link in her product pages that read "product description" and were linking my PDF, in the same window they would end up on my site and most didn't even notice they were elsewhere and would carry on and fulfill an order through my site.

Was that wrong of me? I don't think so. Some might. The funniest thing though was she calls me up and says....

"Your PDFs are broken, can you fix them?"

I told her what I had done and that she should stop linking my PDFs. She did but that was the best month of sales for that year and was only recently broken with the lower US $ as the reason.

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

fjpapaleo




msg:3521237
 10:24 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

OK, I'm not a lawyer but I'll chime in here because I'm a little surprised by some of the responses.

You're not talking about stealing code or mark-up language, you're talking about stealing a design. That's intellectual property and it is most certainly protected by copyright.

There are only so many ways to build a house also, and you can build a house just like your neighbors. What you can't do is steal their blueprint and use it to build your house.

And you can be inspired by Led Zepplin all you want, and you can use every chord Jimmy Page ever made up because you can't copyright a "chord" anymore than you can copyright html. What you can't do is arrange those chords in the exact same way and record it as a song. You can bet your a** you'll be sued over that.

Murdoch




msg:3521256
 10:55 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

Demaestro, that is hilarious.

I would have just told her that I would "get right on fixing those PDFs" and then left them until she called again, and then told her it must've been something wrong on her site.

Pretty classic though.

Xapti




msg:3521291
 11:49 pm on Dec 5, 2007 (gmt 0)

I pretty much don't agree with any copyright of almost any HTML of CSS. The reason being that there's so many pages and designers, so many become similar only by coincidence. There is also gradual mixing of certain features, example: some sites intent certain paragraphs with vertical lines. Another site (designer/coder) with a completely different design may see that idea (or think of it themselves too), and implement it on THEIR site. Now the tricky part - a 3rd site which is very similar in design to the first in many ways, sees the 2nd site's indentation feature, and implements it on their site. sites 1 and 3 end up looking even more similar, even though 3 never directly saw 1.

There's so many little features which aren't copyable, and so many page -text-layout color combinations, they start making various combinations, which look very similar, even if not directly copied.

Lastly, what if some people copy nearly an entire site's code, and does ridiculous modifications to it, so that not only is the invisible code somewhat different (although it may still be the same in some cases), but the colors, sizing, images, and content is completely different. Is there still protection on that? It's all ridiculously gray area, and I think it's dumb to be protecting this stuff.

Making real web pages takes skill. Someone can't just copy the code to get the same SEO, bug fixes, and special features they may need. (of course the main thing they don't get is stuff like php code, which is ridiculously critical). They also have to deal with (a skill)all the code they may not need. They must figure out what javascript and adds and such they need to tweak and remove. About the only thing you can somewhat copy and have success with is generic implementation of HTML layouts, and it's dimensional CSS, and I really don't think that's copyright material.

[edited by: Xapti at 11:54 pm (utc) on Dec. 5, 2007]

chewy




msg:3521357
 1:50 am on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

The Creative Commons has a solution.

copyleft

swa66




msg:3521388
 3:16 am on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

If you still think it's OK to steal HTML and CSS: better talk to a lawyer first, perhaps that'll change your mind. I'm obviously not going to convice some out here.

For those reading this and doubting what to believe: don't get legal advice from a forum on the web. Especially not if the viewpoints differ.

As far as open source not having copyright issues: better read the license agreement first, e.g. creative commons can have grave consequences if you derive work from anything that's "tainted" by such a license. It can force you to share derived work, prohibit commercial use, ...
Open Source does not mean free to do as you please (at least not in all cases). Only public domain means free to do as you please.

incrediBILL




msg:3521406
 4:02 am on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

That's classic Demaestro!

Had a customer once that had all his custom written product support pages stolen once by a company in another country and they actually left a background image still hotlinked to my customers site. We replaced the tiled background image with the words "THIEF" in big bold red letters and they never noticed for months, it was very amusing.

Had one of my sites getting images hotlinked and even direct links to the product descriptions from someone selling stuff on eBay at lower prices. I redirected image requests coming from eBay to gnarly images that violated eBays terms of service and redirected the incoming links to somewhere equally as nasty. I think that eBay seller got their account terminated, bummer.

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3521513
 9:10 am on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

I still find it really odd that with all the billions of websites out there no record of any law suits can be found for infringements. From this is it would be easy to conclude that it may not be illegal. If it were as clear cut as some people are suggesting then statistically surely someone somewhere must have seen their site layout being copied and taken action?

I would think that most legal authorities may take the view that "content is king" - not packaging. That may be why there have been few if any prosecutions. I am certainly much more concerned about people stealing my unique content than I am about site layouts.

rajatgarg




msg:3521516
 9:13 am on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

Yes, thats true.

There is a concept of general knowledge or general items (not sure of the legal term) that can not be patented/copyrighted.
e.g. you can not go an patent chair.

HTML falls under the same area.

mikedee




msg:3521553
 10:55 am on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

There is a concept of general knowledge or general items (not sure of the legal term) that can not be patented/copyrighted.
e.g. you can not go an patent chair.

copyrights!= patents

We are just discussing copyrights not patents - please do not confuse the situation.

callivert




msg:3521563
 11:18 am on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

please do not confuse the situation

oh, i think it's way too late for that :-)

mikedee




msg:3521564
 11:25 am on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

I still find it really odd that with all the billions of websites out there no record of any law suits can be found for infringements.

A) Copy & Pasting just the html is slightly pointless because with most sites the images and the html are closely linked. Theres not much point taking html but not the images.

B) There have been plenty of infringements, they do not go to court because its easy to take down sites with the DMCA. There is no need to go to court to stop infringement. Many people on this forum have had duplicate sites taken down.

C) You have to DISPROVE copyright applies in court not PROVE it. Copyright applies to everything which has the slightest amount of expression. Nobody has ever successfully challenged the validity of copyright on HTML. This means that you cannot copy it and it falls under the normal copyright rules. If you really really want to see a test case, then just copy the HTML of a major site and wait to be taken to court.

EVERYTHING is copyrightable unless stated otherwise by a court. Nobody can show me which court has said that specifically HTML and CSS are not copyrightable (what about javascript?).

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3521591
 12:20 pm on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

please do not confuse the situation

oh, i think it's way too late for that :-)

LOL!

Copy & Pasting just the html is slightly pointless because with most sites the images and the html are closely linked. Theres not much point taking html but not the images.

Mike the original poster specifically stated that he was not going to use the images. Quote, "I change ALL the content to my own content, text, images, etc.". He clearly does not think it is pointless so we should perhaps stick to the question that was asked.

they do not go to court because its easy to take down sites with the DMCA.

The DMCA is a US copyright act. What about the rest of the world?

You have to DISPROVE copyright applies in court not PROVE it./

You have to prove that you have a case before a court will entertain it and it seems that no one has had one yet. ;)

mikedee




msg:3521609
 1:16 pm on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

Mike the original poster specifically stated that he was not going to use the images. Quote, "I change ALL the content to my own content, text, images, etc.". He clearly does not think it is pointless so we should perhaps stick to the question that was asked.

Err... yes... I was just commenting that its not going to really work very well, people tend to copy the whole lot.

The DMCA is a US copyright act. What about the rest of the world?

Most of the world has copyright laws. A simple C&D letter is the same thing but without the additional threats of being sent to gitmo.

You have to prove that you have a case before a court will entertain it and it seems that no one has had one yet. ;)

I don't think that is true, anyone can get their case heard in a small claims court. The Judge will then decide the penalty and if an infringement has occurred. Most copyright infringement gets sorted at the C&D stage.

You have to assume that everything has copyright, the more complicated and expressive the thing being copied, the more chance you will be taken to court.

No court has ever declared that HTML code is not copyrightable. They have to do that to set a precedent (as I have shown in the phonebook example).

Nobody here has come up with even a half valid reason why HTML could not be copyrightable. The reasons give rang from 'HTML is not copyrightable' to 'it is computer code so cannot be copyrighted' to 'well here is some simple html, you couldn't ENFORCE copyright on that therefore copyright does not apply'. Computer code is copyrighted all the time (and cases are brought against infringers). AFAIK the part about computer code relates to the compiled binary or the final code actually run on the CPU (ie the assembler)

Copyright ALWAYS applies otherwise. Its down to a court in each individual situation to decide if an infringement is worth taking down and if there should be any compensation paid. Just because something is simple does not mean it cannot be copyrighted. Nobody should copy ANYTHING from anyone else without explicit permission (being inspired by something is not the same as directly copying and pasting it).

8kobe




msg:3521662
 3:06 pm on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

What would be unique in HTML and CSS?

There are many different things that can be unique to html code. Especially if you are not focusing on a square cornered plain site. I have seen designs from colleagues that if someone would to copy their html code it would be very evident. There are also millions of different ways to design sites. Especially if you know how to make more organic looking designs using images and other techniques. Some so unique that if he decided to edit the images and change everything but the shape of them that it would be clear that it was copied from another site.

I think the key to the conversation is if it is unique. If it is a clear copy of another site, the website owner could easily make it very difficult for the person who copied his design if he so chooses.

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3521674
 3:28 pm on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

No court has ever declared that HTML code is not copyrightable.

Perhaps because it has never gone to court but I can see that there will be no convincing you so let's just agree that we cannot agree. ;)

Demaestro




msg:3521697
 3:54 pm on Dec 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

^^ Well said..

happy Holidays to all.. and peace love and prosperit

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