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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?

 

rocknbil




msg:3519618
 8:54 pm on Dec 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

Flame suit on? :-)

There is nothing anyone can do to stop you. It's still copyrighted work, and it's still stealing. If you think the "look" is clean, you will most likely also be stealing graphics.

However, the truth is the code itself most likely came from some other source in the first place, so in a sense we've all borrowed, exchanged, intermixed and added our own flavor to chunks of code to make it our own.

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.

From your standpoint, you are likely to run into the same problem car owners have that have no understanding of how their car works: you steal this thing and try to add your content and it breaks, and you have no idea why.

Your best shot is to go ahead and view those html and css files, examine them, see how they work, and apply some of the methods used in them, but make it your own. Add your own flair, understand the logic behind the original creation, you'll be doing the author a much better service in studying their work rather than just copying it and pasting it.

"I wouldn't mind" - once you've done the work, wrangled for hours over a cross-browser problem and finally solved it on your own, get it all debugged and working, trust me - you will see this very differently.

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3519647
 9:22 pm on Dec 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

Apparently, if you copy the "trade dress" (which I would assume means the livery) of a website then there is no doubt that you could be in trouble with regard to copyright.

If you see a standard layout that you like and copy this using your own graphics, colour scheme and images then it is doubtful that any copyright infringement claim would stick. To my mind the end product is what you see on the screen not the code behind it. If you use CSS that someone else has written to create a site that does not look anything like the original then it would be very difficult (impossible?) to build a case in court.

I agree with Bill. It's the nature of the Internet to copy ideas and concepts. Who hasn't used some CSS snippet which originally came from somewhere else? If an idea is seen to work then other people will use it and that's how the Internet has developed.

It's a bit like if you see an image of a local landmark that you really like. You may not steal it but you could jump in the car with your camera and go and take a similar shot for yourself. The image composition (or layout) would be essentially similar to the original but you would not be guilty of any copyright infringement.

Note that these are just my opinions, which may be wrong, but I can find no reference anywhere to any successful action being raised for CSS or HTML code theft.

Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong?

thrasher141




msg:3519649
 9:28 pm on Dec 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

rocknbil,
Thanks for your reply. So HTML and CSS is protected by copyright law in the US? I didn't know that, and have had trouble finding any resources about that issue. I would hope that people on this forum wouldn't be ticked off at me for asking! I haven't done it yet, and am thinking I probably won't. But I have trouble seeing the harm in it. And actually, maybe I didn't explain myself very well. I've been doing website work for a few years and have worked on a handful of different sites - so I am familiar with the tediousness of writing the HTML and the frustration of making CSS work in both Firefox and IE. I have done it before and could do it again, but in the interest of saving time, I'd love to just have a simple template for a simple site that I need to whip out, instead of writing all the HTML and CSS myself. I know there are lots of free templates out there, some of which are OK, but then my coworker (the client) pointed out a website that he likes the "look of" (layout, image placement, etc). So that's what got me thinking of this. Would it be wrong to copy their source, replace ALL content with our own, just to save me the time of writing all the HTML and CSS? If so, what about if I copied the general look (layout) of their site but wrote my own HTML - is that wrong?

And no, I really wouldn't care if somebody took my HTML or CSS. I think you are right that we've all kind of borrowed from others anyway. I did menu hover graphics with a CSS technique that I found on the net (probably Eric Meyer or something like that).

Wow, I just wrote more than I thought I would! Thanks for your input, that's what I wanted - to hear what other webmasters think.

thecoalman




msg:3519696
 10:10 pm on Dec 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

In some cases copying may be the the only alternative, copyright laws are a little overbroad. If for example you as web designer are presented with a unique problem to solve should you be the owner of that piece of code if it's the only way to solve it? When you have to add 1+1 the only way to do it is by adding 1+1.

As far as copying an entire website layout whether legal or not I wouldn't be comfortable doing it myself. I find even "borrowing" code to be a little annoying but if its the easiest, simplest and best solution I'll use it.

Dabrowski




msg:3520039
 11:38 am on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

Without reading the whole thread 'cos I haven't got much time, I would say that with HTML/CSS being such a simple 'language', there's generally only 1 or 2 ways to produce a given page, and most people would use it.

If you wrote it from scratch you'd end up with something pretty similar, so go ahead and pinch the code. I would.

You have to be careful about the design though, the asthetic appearance may give you away if it's exactly the same. This is something that I would bother about myself.

I wouldn't however pinch someone's JavaScript, that stuff takes time and considerable skill to create (if it's any good).

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:3520088
 12:59 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

there's generally only 1 or 2 ways to produce a given page

An underestimate if ever I saw one. ;)

stever




msg:3520160
 3:10 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

Certainly, if you are using modern layout methods, the underlying page structure is unlikely to be subject to copyright, since there are so many free css resources around these days.

Referring to this, I mean structures such as "two-column fixed, with left menu, header and footer". Look around in the css forum, I am sure there are references there to some of the more well-known resources.

It's once you get past that point that the potential problems arise. Javascript functions, Flash, images, etc., can all be subject to copyright, or part of a commercial offering and there, I would say, is where you need to start being aware of the issues you raise.

nomis5




msg:3520377
 8:08 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

Go copy the html as much as you want. It's a compliment to the author. Any mention of the author taking you to courts is bull#*$!! A court case costs 10,000s (euros, just in case the $ plummets even further) these days with almost no idea of which way the result might go. Divorce lawyers and copyright lawyers are the same. Hugely, massively expensive and not for the sane.

carguy84




msg:3520389
 8:24 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

So HTML and CSS is protected by copyright law in the US?

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-

swa66




msg:3520392
 8:30 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

Copyright is originally designed to allow the authors of "works of art" control of how and under what conditions it can be copied
[There might be more or less limits to what the author can do in this respect depending on the local law (e.g. the US has rather permissive "fair use" rules, many EU countries have consumer rights regarding software (right to make backups, void shrink wrap license limitation etc.).]

Copying the look and feel of a website is in many cases copying the "artsy" part of a website, and hence should be without a doubt a copyright violation (all depending on the exact wording of the law under which it is protected).

Copyright is never intended to protect the way to do something (the idea), but is intended to protect the expression of that idea.
E.g. it'll does not protect the idea of writing a novel where the butler did it, but it'll protect the words, the drawings, etc. of the cover, the text of the book etc.

So in my book:
- if you copy a css file: copyright problem
- if you look at other css files to see how they solve a problem, no problem at all from a copyright point of view if you use the same method to solve the problem. (might be a patent issue, but living where software patents are void and nonexistent I really don't care about them at all).

For all clarity: INAL.

--
edit: fixed typo

[edited by: swa66 at 8:47 pm (utc) on Dec. 4, 2007]

Demaestro




msg:3520394
 8:40 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

It isn't stealing and no there is nothing wrong with it.

Being inspired by a site and using some of it as a jumping off point is good time management.

I mean how many 2 or 3 column layouts can there be?

Show me an original HTML/CSS website and I will show you original HTML/CSS site that is similar. It is called re-purposing... why re-invent the wheel?

If I learn to play guitar by playing nothing but Led Zepplin then I write some songs you better believe the songs will be sound and be similar to Led Zepplin songs... no-one would freak out if I said I based my songs on their songs and was inspired by them.

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

Most of the people complaining about this activity avail themselves of open source and free products all the time. They don't mind using things built by others and using it to profit, but they mind very much if someone even re-words a paragraph they wrote.

There is too much stuff out there for everything to be original now..... I don't see a problem as long as you customize it enough to be distinctly yours.

swa66




msg:3520395
 8:40 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)


I don't know how you could copyright code.

Most of the examples of code you gave are trivial pieces of code, not expressions of "art". Copyrights isn't intended to protect trivial things (e.g. you cannot copyright "howdy!"), more elaborate expressions (like e.g. a speech you give for accepting your webby award), are perfectly copyrighted, from the moment you create it.

Copyright is automatic, you do not need (and outside the US you even cannot) register or need to claim it, by creating the "work of art" it is automatically yours. You can donate the rights away to the public domain if you would choose to do so.

All software by definition falls under copyright rules.

jtara




msg:3520396
 8:41 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

I don't know how you could copyright code.

The U.S. Copyright office has a guide telling you just how to do so:

Copyright Registration for Computer Programs [copyright.gov]

europeforvisitors




msg:3520397
 8:42 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

Computer programs (code) are protected by copyright in the U.S., although algorithms and other "processes" aren't. See "What the Registration of an Online Work Covers" at:

[copyright.gov...]

You'll note that the Copyright Office document specifically refers to protection of "a computer program that establishes the format of text and graphics on the computer screen when a website is viewed (such as a program written in html)."

Demaestro




msg:3520399
 8:45 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

I don't know how you could copyright code.

You can, I mean that is how most software works.

HTML is not code AKA not a programing language, it is a markup language.

No one owns the rights to this....

<html>
<head></head>

<body>
<h1>Hello World</h1>
<p>This is my world</p>
</body>
</html>

don't copy use the above HTML to start a website from... that is my layout.

carguy84




msg:3520402
 8:51 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

^ Does the Copyright office make that distinction though?

Most of the examples of code you gave are trivial pieces of code, not expressions of "art".

How much code constitutes not being trivial? What if I floated a couple of divs to the right, and one to the left?

Demaestro




msg:3520415
 8:59 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

The copyright office considers the amount of the original work that was copied and since he is re-designing the layout himself with new colors and images I don't see it being a copyright issue.

Like I said... how many 2-3 column layouts can there be?

If the copyrightable part of it is the artist part of it then him changing colors and images should be enough... who cares if he copies a CSS class that has a inline <ul> or nice floated divs set up already? How many ways are there to do an inline <ul> and how many ways are there to float a div?

The other thing that is considered is how it affects the original, if he changes all images and content then NO-ONE can make an argument that it would hurt the original site.

[edited by: Demaestro at 9:01 pm (utc) on Dec. 4, 2007]

mikedee




msg:3520423
 9:07 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

No it is not OK to copy someones HTML work, it is still copyright. You can copyright virtually anything, except the simple examples given. Don't fool yourself that its OK or somehow code cannot be copyrighted. If you find HTML tedious then pay for someone to do it for you. Someone has spent a lot of time making that code to your liking, the least you can do is contact the author and ask if you can use it with the changes. You may be surprised what asking rather than taking can accomplish.

A judge wouldn't need to be involved because all you have to do is sent a cease and desist letter to the isp and 9 times out of ten it will be taken down. Could your site survive being forcibly taken down?

It is obvious if you take someones html and just tweak the colours etc, imagine webmaster world with a different logo and different colours.

swa66




msg:3520425
 9:08 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

^ Does the Copyright office make that distinction though?

Most of the examples of code you gave are trivial pieces of code, not expressions of "art".

How much code constitutes not being trivial? What if I floated a couple of divs to the right, and one to the left?

As stated before I live outside the US, there is no local "copyright office" out here at all (esp. as registration doesn't exist out here, there wouldn't be a task for them to do at all)

Still a quick look at:
[copyright.gov...]

To me states "Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example: standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)" are not copyrighted ...

Hence it seems the US laws are in sync on this with other countries (which is most often the case for most countries and most aspects of copyright law).

Demaestro




msg:3520426
 9:10 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

You'll note that the Copyright Office document specifically refers to protection of "a computer program that establishes the format of text and graphics on the computer screen when a website is viewed (such as a program written in html)."

You are confusing two things HTML is not a computer program.... the computer program that ""establishes the format of text and graphics on the computer screen when a website is viewed""... is actually what FireFox does and what IE, Safari and other browsers do... those programs are what they are talking about. The HTML defines the layout.. the program that renders it is the computer program.

mikedee




msg:3520432
 9:17 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

You are confusing two things HTML is not a computer program.... the computer program that ""establishes the format of text and graphics on the computer screen when a website is viewed""... is actually what FireFox does and what IE, Safari and other browsers do... those programs are what they are talking about. The HTML defines the layout.. the program that renders it is the computer program.

Are you trying to say web browsers cannot be copyrighted? Please think carefully about your answer as a multi-billion dollar industry depends on the dillusion that you can actually copyright a browser (and any code in fact).

Look at the top of any source code file, the first line is normally a copyright statement. You don't need to register copyright for it to be yours.

This post is my copyright.

Murdoch




msg:3520433
 9:18 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

I believe the only way you could get in trouble is if the person could prove that your site was based primarily on their design, and even then only if you cut and paste it or use it in its totality.

8kobe




msg:3520434
 9:19 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

I would say that by the letter of the law it is illegal. However it would be pretty difficult to prove that you did it unless the layouts are very unique. So if you copy someone's 3 column layout and change all the graphical parts of the site I would say that they cannot do much about it. However if someone is doing something unique and different and you copy it they may be able to come after you. Do I think that they will come after you..... most likely not unless they have deep pockets or if you are in their "industry." If they are in your industry you should not copy their site anyway. If I came to a site that looked alot like another site I have visited I would leave and never come back.

Demaestro




msg:3520437
 9:28 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

mikedee

No that is not what I am saying please re-read what you are quoting.

I am saying that this....

"a computer program that establishes the format of text and graphics on the computer screen when a website is viewed "

.....is applicable to browsers not HTML.. so I am saying it is browsers that fall in this area not HTML meaning it that code base is copyrightable.

However if someone is doing something unique and different and you copy it they may be able to come after you.

What would be unique in HTML and CSS?

How many ways are there to set up an HTML page? Think about it.

Oh wow he floated a div and gave it a margin and padding and defined a min-height and width. Wish I had thought of that first so I could do it too.

[edited by: Demaestro at 9:32 pm (utc) on Dec. 4, 2007]

swa66




msg:3520438
 9:30 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

since he is re-designing the layout himself with new colors and images I don't see it being a copyright issue.

It depends on how much is taken to either fall under the derived work (copyright protects this) or either just using the "mechanical" part of making it work (algorithm like parts are not protected).

To be safe: reuse the algorithm, but stay away from copying it all as you're likely to create a derivative work if you do that. Esp. so if the CSS is elaborate in what it does.

It's like writing your new novel by first cut-and-pasting an e-book in it and then trying to remove the "trouble" content.
Write it from scratch for yourself and you're automatically in the clear.

Like I said... how many 2-3 column layouts can there be?

That the butler did the murder is not protected, the book itself however is protected. So the mechanical part (as probably given quite a few dozen times in the CSS forum, just on this website) is not protected, no matter of how many ways there are to do it.
The collection of such things in a specific way however is protected.

If the copyrightable part of it is the artist part of it then him changing colors and images should be enough...

I'm afraid not: let's look at an Andy Warhol painting: I put a filter on it in photoshop and it would not be a derived work? Just as translating a book from English to Spanish doesn't remove copyright of the original author, changing colors will not either.

who cares if he copies a CSS class that has a inline <ul> or nice floated divs set up already? How many ways are there to do an inline <ul> and how many ways are there to float a div?

A lot depends on how you use CSS I guess. But if you really fancy a more advanced CSS layout, I'd call it a work of art quite easily, and that would make it off limits.

The other thing that is considered is how it affects the original, if he changes all images and content then NO-ONE can make an argument that it would hurt the original site.

Amount of "hurt" isn't a parameter in copyright. E.g. how much does it hurt that you take a night picture of the Eiffel tower in Paris? Still the nightly lightshow is copyrighted (and enforced).

jmatthew3




msg:3520440
 9:31 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

I am not a lawyer, but I am a law student studying for an intellectual property final right now. What I'm about to say is NOT legal advice. Do not rely on anything I am about to say.

First, code is protected by copyright. Copyright attaches at the moment of creation. However, in copyright law, especially in computer code, not everything is protected. Generally speaking, ideas are not protected and expression is. (This is called the idea/expression dichotomy and it comes up in lots of situations) In software cases, you have to look at whether what has been implemented is the only way of implementing something (or it's the most efficient way). This is because if there is only one way to implement something, and you implement it that way, we don't give you an absolute right to prevent other people from doing something that way.

The hard part comes when you try to actually tell the difference. Is taking someone's template and placing your own text taking their idea? or is it taking their expression? If all you do is take their way of implementing a css rollover menu, then that's more likely taking of their idea. If you take the general flow of their layout "a couple div tags arranged like so and so to implement a two column liquid layout" then that too (at least to me) looks like taking of an idea.

Taking an entire layout including CSS (best guess) would probably, generally speaking, be over the line. How they arrange things on the screen -- their particular layout -- there is at least some minimal level of original, expressive content in *that* and copying *that* would be protected.

jmatthew3




msg:3520443
 9:34 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

Also, generally speaking, source code gets just as much protection as object code or what a program (or webpage) looks like when displayed to the user.

Demaestro




msg:3520445
 9:36 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

It's like writing your new novel by first cut-and-pasting an e-book in it and then trying to remove the "trouble" content.

No.... it is like taking an old press-wheel template from a book that was printed previously and removing all the content and replacing all the titles, paragraphs and pictures in it to yours... keeping the layout.

_________
¦ title ¦
¦text ¦
¦text ¦
¦image ¦
¦footer ¦

Can we stop calling a markup language(HTML), computer code... it is not a programming language.

If you think HTML is a programming language then I would like to see you code database interaction with it.

Show me a loop in HTML. How about an "if" statement.

Face facts here... HTML is not a programming language.

[edited by: Demaestro at 9:38 pm (utc) on Dec. 4, 2007]

Josefu




msg:3520460
 9:56 pm on Dec 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

The answer is pretty simple, but a few of you are mixing things up a bit. Correct that HTML (or any other markup language) is not "computer code".

There's nothing at all keeping you from "snipping" someone else's hard-made markup, but that doesn't mean it's right. But would you? If the layout (I speak not here of the colors, graphics, etc) is commonplace, or it comes from a common and known source (extendable liquid three-column <div> layout, anyone?) "cut n' pasting" could be acceptable... but personally I would either ask permission to "use the creator's solution", and/or give the creator a commented credit above the code (many ask exactly that).

But "copyright" the use of a markup code? Not at all. For some perspective, just think of the billions of websites out there, and slap this up against html's few layout possibilities, as well as its many limitations - how many sites are alike? If markup were protectable, the lawsuits would never end!

[edited by: Josefu at 9:59 pm (utc) on Dec. 4, 2007]

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