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September 09, 2003

Perhaps I should wait until I cool down some… but by the time you’re done reading this, chances are you’ll be angry too.

Logic aside, if you offer work for others to learn from you run the risk of those same people you wish to help claiming the work as their own. I’ve had good luck so far with the Zen Garden, but that changed this week.

Since nearly the beginning, there have been people grabbing entire templates, graphics and all, and using them as the basis of their site; these I have politely requested the site owners to take down, and compliance has been prompt and agreeable.

The tricky part is when people want to use an individual .css file as a basis for their design, changing only images, perhaps with a new colour or font scheme. Obviously releasing the .css file under the Attribution-ShareAlike license from Creative Commons means that it’s open to interpretation; I’ve tried to address this in the FAQ by adding a further layer of permissions on top of the CC license.

The idea is that you can feel free to steal bits and pieces, learn from, and generally plunder the CSS as long as you don’t approach it as a template. The line is fuzzy and vague, and it’s where most confusion springs from. I’ve been lenient. Most have been considerate, and e-mailed me or the designer before beginning; generally these people are granted permission, and the designer is flattered.

But this week I have been dealing with someone in particular who started off on the wrong foot by using the designs wholesale (graphics and all), and continues to grow more belligerent with each new e-mail. Allow me to quote him, sic:

I am not your ennemy… There is no copyright issues in seeing Mona Lisa In the Louvres museum, draw it at home, and make this drawing available on the internet, (once again, there will be no commercial issues with theses templates)…Can we talk to find an acceptable solution? Waiting for a proposal of yours Dave. Forget the threats, or I will definitively skip you off the process. You have no choice Dave, either I do it under your supuervision, or I do it alone.


If you don’t want this like that to happen again, then I am affraid that you should make your web site private access, and make the people pay per view… do you like the idea? Ever heard about the price oF success? Congratulation Dave, that’s what is happening to Css Zen Garden

Where does this sense of entitlement come from? How can someone see something online, assume they have permission to use it, and argue against the person who created it that they have the right to continue doing so? This particular individual was planning on using some of the Zen Garden designs as templates for re-distribution with an open source content management system. Perhaps that says something.

Regardless, I think it’s time to re-visit the Zen Garden’s licensing. I have a responsibility to protect the work of 34 graphic artists (and that number grows weekly.) I need better tools at my disposal.

Reader Comments

Ethan says:
September 09, 02h

This is easily the most disheartening thing I’ve read all day.

Sorry to hear that you’ve been dealing with this, Dave..sorrier still to hear that it’s forcing you to rethink the Zen Garden’s licensing structure.

Dave S. says:
September 09, 02h

Since I know which points people will bring up in the comments, here are a few of my replies in advance:

- I won’t name/link him because the rip-offs are now password-protected. He has also been good about taking down the graphics after receiving emphatic no’s from the original designers, but he remains unrepentant about the CSS.

- re: entitlement. My reply: “You say you are allowed to use the CSS any way you choose? Fact is, *I* wrote the permissions, and your interpretation of them doesn’t mean a damn thing. You could interpret them to mean I owe you dinner and a night on the town, but that doesn’t make it so. I say you cannot use the .CSS files as templates replaced with your own artwork, that’s not what they’re available for. You now have a third e-mail from me saying exactly this. Why do you feel so entitled to them?”

- re: Mona Lisa. My reply: “Of course there’s no copyright issue on the Mona Lisa, that particular work belongs to the public domain. Try selling drawings of the Coca-Cola logo, and then you’re moving into a more relevant example. Copyrights enforce ownership, and all works in the Garden are protected by copyright.”

September 09, 03h

You’re right–the line is fuzzy and vague, and will always be so. There will always be folks who pass off others’ work as their own.

This is a different type of copyright violation than simply using or accessing the work without permission.

Quoting your rights to the type of self-entitled doofuses who do this type of thing isn’t very productive. It’s like trying to convince a spammer not to spam.

In this particular case, you have a much bigger bludgeon at your disposal. csszengarden has far greater mindshare than some joker’s new twine-and-cardboard CMS system. Use that. Do post the project name (but not the person’s name), with a request that folks avoid it, and your reason why.

Heck, you’ve done 90% of that already.

Yeah, I know…any publicity is good publicity. But in this case, I doubt it.

patricia says:
September 09, 03h

Good call on “you’ll be angry too by the end of this post.” wow but some people have nerve. I will readily admit that as a newbie (one of these days I’m gonna have to stop using that.) I have looked at code left and right. I’ve even grabbed pages to study, hacking things to pieces to try and figure out what makes stuff tick, but I’ve never used anything that I didn’t have permission to use. And if I had and someone had called me on it, I’d be properly apologetic (not to mention so many shades of embarrassed) instead of getting belligerent.

I don’t blame you at all for being angry. I personally want to thank you for not linking to the person. So often when people are angry and they blog about it, and include a link to whoever is making them angry, others take it upon themselves to get involved and that just gets so messy and ugly. There’s a high road here and you’re definitely on it.

folkert says:
September 09, 03h

This is a sad story indeed, and an all too familiar one. Dave, I hope this guy will have a grain of dignity left and take the CSS off-line. What you’re doing is invaluable to a lot of people like myself. Thank you for that! We all learn by sharing, not by stealing.

Erik says:
September 09, 03h

It is very sad that people who have this attitude are around. It makes it that much more difficult for us folk who purely want to learn new tricks and come up with our own ideas. You need a basis for inspiration as it cannot come from a vacuum. This is what CSS Zen Garden provides me. I look at the designs here and download the css because it helps me become better at what I do. And the work is truly inspiring!! I certainly hope that this joker doesn’t ruin it for us all. Dave, you keep up the good work. Thanks for providing a site like this and proving that it doesn’t have to be complex in order to be elegant and beautiful.

September 09, 03h

dave…maybe mentioning the sharealike license may not be the best idea. rather than trying to limit such an open license by adding restrictions to it, maybe you should just write your own licensing terms. additionally, the restrictions as stated in your FAQ are nowhere to be found in the actual css files. and personally, i hadn’t even looked at the FAQ before, as i thought the boilerplate at the beginning of the css didn’t leave any questions open…mistakenly, as i now see.
so from THAT point of view, you may have shot yourself slightly in the foot…which however does not condone the other guy’s behaviour and attitude, of course.

jonner says:
September 09, 03h

While i agree that this guy (whoever he is) is being a jackass, i don’t agree with you Dave that your interpretation is necessarily what matters. You licensed it under a creative commons license, which explicitly states what is and what isn’t allowed:

The way I read the license, this guy seems to be within his rights to do what he’s trying to do. If you don’t want him to be able to do this (and I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t either), I think you’ll have to pick a different license and not use this particular Creative Commons license.

Keith says:
September 09, 03h

This is sad. Whatever happened to professional pride and the desire to do what’s right? Inspiration is a wonderful thing to have and it makes me sick when someone out there, who I imagine sees himself as a peer, takes advantage of that inspiration and other’s hard work.

I’m sure he’ll get his comeuppance. It’s just a shame you’ve got to deal with this crap Dave. I’m truly sorry.

jonner says:
September 09, 03h

While i agree that this guy (whoever he is) is being a jackass, i don’t agree with you Dave that your interpretation is necessarily what matters. You licensed it under a creative commons license, which explicitly states what is and what isn’t allowed:

The way I read the license, this guy seems to be within his rights to do what he’s trying to do. If you don’t want him to be able to do this (and I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t either), I think you’ll have to pick a different license and not use this particular Creative Commons license.

Tim says:
September 09, 03h

Even if you (Dave) don’t release the thief’s name, someone will read this, try his new content management system, and recognize the design. He will then hopefully report them to and let the community boycott his work. He will then learn the hard way the public image and respect of others work are the only way to get respect in return.

Joshua Haberman says:
September 09, 03h

I think you’re both out of line here. It was definitely wrong of him to use the graphics without permission, since it is made clear that they remain copyrighted by the artists. However it is perfectly within his rights to use the CSS according to the license under which you released it.

Legally, your interpretation of the permissions (the CreativeCommons license) doesn’t mean a thing either; all that matters is the interpretation of the courts. The CreativeCommons license is unambiguous: direct copies and derivative works are allowed, provided that the conditions of the license are met: namely, that he properly attribute the work and licenses modifications to others under the same license.

You cannot further restrict the license grants by putting supplemental information in a FAQ. You need to make a decision to use the CreativeCommons license or not. You have to accept that fact that the license you have chosen specifically allows direct copying and the creation of derivative works.

Even if the Mona Lisa was not in the public domain, it would still be legal to sell original drawings impersonating it. Copyright law is very clear that only specific works of authorship are protected: never ideas or concepts. The Coca-Cola logo is protected by trademark law, not copyright.

September 09, 03h

Sorry to hear about that Dave, there’s always some idiot who can’t do things for themselves and thinks that they can just treat people like dirt.

As a radio presenter I listen to regularly (James Whale)would say ‘the only solution is to have these people put down.’

Chin up mate, there’s a tosser born every minute, not worth stressing about, you’ll sort it.

Joshua Haberman says:
September 09, 03h

Rereading my comment, I realize that it sounds like I support this guy’s conduct. I do not. I personally believe in respecting the wishes of authors (to a degree, but I won’t go into that). I was only establishing that *legally* he has the right to do what he is doing.

Dave S. says:
September 09, 03h

Fair usage of the files has evolved over time. At the beginning I naively believed everyone would just play fair, and fully intended on allowing unrestricted access to the CSS files. This assumed the person on the other end wasn’t malicious, and I’ve started realizing that it was a wrong assumption.

The current licensing is spread out too much, so I think it’s time to consolidate and unify. I want to keep the designs as open to learning as possible, which means that people should be allowed to copy and paste snippits without impunity. The CC license provided for this, but obviously it’s far too broad and allows usage of the work that neither I or the original designers wish to grant. It’ll be the first thing to go.

If someone has a boilerplate license on hand that I might be able to modify to suit this purpose, I’d be interested in taking a look. Get in touch.

Dave S. says:
September 09, 03h

Joshua - one further point about CC licenses. I don’t give up copyrights when using one - they grant certain priveledges, but anything granted by one is most definitely revokable by the original copyright holder.

jonner says:
September 09, 03h

Well, there are creative commons licenses with different terms. For instance “no derivative works allowed”, etc. Look into that. Unfortunately for you, however, according to the terms of the CC license, they are not revocable. I.e. Everything that you’ve licensed under the original license is legally still bound by that license. So there’s no *legal* way for you to stop this guy from doing what he’s doing. All you can do is appeal to his better nature I guess.

Michael Sheets says:
September 09, 03h

I gotta agree with jonner and Joshua, you used the Creative Commons licence, he is well within his rights. You cannot have your cake and eat it too by piling on restrictions elsewhere.

The licences were made to be easy to read and stand by themselves. You’ve got to either use it or not use it.

But even if you do decide to stop using the licence he can keep using it. “the license granted here is perpetual” ie: you can’t revoke his right to use it, you can stop distributing it, you can change the licence, but never the rights you already gave him.

Of course this is all legal and not moral rights, what he did may have been against the spirit of the page. The creative commons licences are great, but you need to know what they are before you use them.

Peter J. says:
September 09, 03h

I was about to reply as the first dissenting voice, but I see others have stepped in. I’ll post the question I wrote originally, though: how is the requested reuse different from this [ ] wholesale application of CSS Zen Garden designs to another site in their entirety?

Yes, I know you’re not using them as the primary design for the site. And you probably have at least the implicit permission of the designers to use their files by the very fact that they submitted them to you (and I’m sure you got their explicit permission). But what’s stopping anyone from doing exactly the same thing as you’ve done on your own separate site with their designs?

As others have stated, lest it appear I’m unsympathetic, I’m emphatically not: I write a lot of CSS myself, from scratch. I don’t have nearly the talent of the people who’ve submitted to the Garden, graphically, esthetically or otherwise, so I use techniques I’ve found elsewhere… and using a sliding :hover image is hardly a patented process (yet).

(Slightly off-topic, regarding drawings of the Coca-Cola logo… I don’t know the history, but did Andy Warhol get in trouble for reproducing Campbell’s Soup cans? Would he today?)

Matt says:
September 09, 03h

The only problem now is once something is released under a CC license that license can’t be taken back. So the things you have already released under that license is under it for its lifetime.

Chris says:
September 09, 03h

This guy’s attitude sucks. Had he asked nicely things could have been more amicable. Changing the license on existing work won’t help your cause though. My understanding is that once something has been licensed under the CC sharealike code (or any other code) it can’t be unlicensed. You’ll only be able to protect new content with a new license and this guy can carry on using the css he has already pilfered unabated. Bloody legal mumbo jumbo!

September 09, 03h

I have to agree with Joshua. I don’t support the copier’s attitude or most of his actions, but I do believe that I have the right to distribute verbatime copies of CSS files from the Zen Garden. Why? Because you (and the authors of those files) gave me that permission:

“css released under Creative Commons ShareAlike License v1.0 … The CSS itself may freely be used for anything you wish, but the associated graphics belong to the designer.”

If I had contributed a file to the Garden under those terms, I certainly wouldn’t want you “protecting” it by denying people the rights I chose to give them.

I encourage designers and authors to really consider what the CC licenses mean! They are not just colorful badges that let you forget about copyright issues. They give actual legal permission for other people to *copy your work*. They are also irrevocable[1], so you should be sure that this is really what you want before you use them.

1. “Every license… is not revocable.”

September 09, 04h

I agree with the others; you can’t revoke CC licensed work like that. You can change the license _now_ to what you think it should be, but that won’t cover this particular clown.

Don’t be disheartened by the odd idiot here and there. You (and your contributors) have created something that a hell of a lot of people admire and draw inspiration from. If a couple of people here and there rip off your work, it might sting, but it doesn’t detract from your work in any meaningful way.

Change the license to do what you want, forget about the idiot, and move on.

Dave S. says:
September 09, 04h

Thanks Jim, that’s precisely my intent. I’m fully aware that rhetoric aside, this guy can’t be stopped. But this has opened my eyes.

The ironic thing is that if this were just my OWN work we were talking about, I would be all for a generous CC license. I thought I could get away with it, but now that I’m in a position where I have to defend the rights of 33 other people, it’s SO not worth it.

Leave it to those who want more than you can give to ruin it for everyone else.

September 09, 04h

Whoa. What a complete asshole. On top of being a loser he clearly is a bad typist as well.

I had a bad problem that was similar to this with PhotoStack . I’ve now moved to a different CC license that permits this sort of activity.

So who is this pig fu, um asshole anyways?

September 09, 04h

Just out of curiousity, why do you feel that you have to “defend the rights” of the other contributors? Didn’t they all consciously choose to grant those rights to the public? I think that you should respect their explicitly-stated wishes.

Unless you have permission from each copyright-holder, it is *illegal* for you to distribute these CC-licensed files under terms more restrictive than the CC license: “You may not offer or impose any terms on the Work that alter or restrict the terms of this License or the recipients’ exercise of the rights granted hereunder.” (CC-SA-1.0)

As a free software author, I place certain restrictions on copying my work, and I don’t like it when people ignore those restrictions. But I am just as mad when someone tries to add restrictions beyond my wishes. That’s why licenses like the GPL and CC-SA-1.0 prevent you from removing the freedoms I grant.

Conan says:
September 09, 04h

Clearly, the only way forward in regards to the wrong-honourable gentleman in question is to have his anus slowly pulled out with a big tin hook. The next step would be to either feed it to him, or use it as the focus-point in a piece of abstract art submitted in competition for the Turner Prize. Taking full copyright ownership for the anus, of course.

September 09, 04h

To clarify my last point, I am assuming that the other Zen Garden contributors read and understood the license before voluntarily agreeing to it. If other designers have contacted Dave privately with concerns about the license, then he certainly try to protect those designers’ rights.

By the way, this paragraph appears in the Creative Commons license used by the CSS Zen Garden:

“This License constitutes the entire agreement between the parties with respect to the Work licensed here. There are no understandings, agreements or representations with respect to the Work not specified here. Licensor shall not be bound by any additional provisions that may appear in any communication from You. This License may not be modified without the mutual written agreement of the Licensor and You.”

September 09, 05h

Dave, quick disclaimer - I work for the Creative Commons, but I’m not a lawyer and don’t consider this legal advice. I’m sorry to hear about the copies of CSS being used as-is, but as others have said unfortunately, the license allows this.

A more fitting license would be our in-development Sampling license, as it allows people to make derivative works of stuff, without being able to release simple copies of the original. It may be out this fall, and though it was created with music and photo collages in mind, it could work in this case as well.

Hank Marquardt says:
September 09, 05h

Well, I have to agree with the flow here … this guy is within the terms; and honestly before this came up I read the license because I’d never seen it before and I thought it fit the site and intent of the site; particularly with the explicit withhold of the images used.

Next project, or even future submissions to this project, pick a license more keeping with your intent, that’s your homework.

Honestly, if attribution is given (as it needs to be), I think the authors should be flattered to have their templates in an open source cms … but that’s just me and I don’t have a design in the gallery.

September 09, 05h

I forgot about the URL:

Michael says:
September 09, 05h

The sad part in all of this is the legalistic vantage points that everyone has to come from nowadays.

It can’t just be about what’s proper, polite, courtious, considerate, correct, or nice.

It has to be about what the license says, what the offender feels entightled to, how far the offender feels he can go with it, what the letter of the law says can and can’t happen.

It can’t be a nice little “oh sorry”, “hey, no problem” affair. It’s gotta be “sorry bucko you lose, too bad” and “listen here you jerk”. Maybe I’m just a little polly-anna but I expect better behavior out of people whether or not there’s a license covering that behavior. It saddens me that there are people out there so immature and so self-absorbed that they just can’t understand it when people don’t want to give them the world for free and act belligerent when people challenge them for that behavior.

Dave S. says:
September 09, 06h

Michael - THANK you. That is the best I’ve heard it stated in a long time.

Matt - thanks for the info. Sampling looks good, and would have been my first choice if it were around at the time.

September 09, 06h

I hate to disagree with Michael, but I have to. That’s the whole *point* of attaching a license to a copyrighted work. Without an explicit license, anyone who wanted to (re)use the CSS from the Zen Garden would have to ask Dave (and the original artist) for *permission* (beyond whatever fair-use rights might hold in this case). Dave could then say, on a case-by-case basis what was or was not permitted.

By attaching a licence, Dave is saying to one-and-all, “Don’t ask, just take!” The only way that *works* is if the terms of what is permitted are stated clearly and explicitly in the license. Otherwise, a potential user would have to *ask* Dave, anyway, whether his intended use was permitted. The whole *point* of granting a license is that (subject to its conditions), the licensees *don’t* have to ask permission.

The trouble came when Dave chose a license which did not reflect his intentions. He won’t be the first to make such a mistake. My blog sported a CC license for a while, before some of the terms (which I found objectionable) were pointed out to me:

Joshua Haberman says:
September 09, 07h

Michael - I believe that both legal questions and ethical ones are important. I believe in doing what is right, and for me that usually means respecting the wishes of the author.

This guy’s attitude sucks, he’s being disrespectful and rude. But the fact of the matter is that he was specifically given the right to do what he is doing with the CSS by the CC license. You’re getting mad at him for doing things you specifically gave him permission to do. No one has any authority to say “sorry bucko you lose,” and even if they did: what kind of conflict was ever solved this way?

Licenses are important because they are a way for authors to express their wishes formally in a legally binding way. Like Matt Brubeck, I have licensed a lot of my own software work under a license a lot like the CC license Dave is using. We use that license because we mean it: we really want people to be able to use our work, whether that means copying it verbatim or making changes.

Dave granted the public similar rights when he used the CC license, but he is angry when people attempt to exercise them. This doesn’t make any sense. Licenses are a tool, not just a detail.

Lea says:
September 09, 07h

This is indeed a sad state of affairs. But the man in question really is in violation – considering he filched the GRAPHICS as well as the CSS.

Why can’t people just make up their own ideas? blah blah blah all the legalities. Where have all the manners gone? Why didn’t the guy just ask for permission? A quick e-mail here or there before using a design would have resolved this issue.

I mean, one of the SitePoint CSS contest entries is obviously influenced by Doug B’s Golden Mean entry – but as Doug also pointed out, it was refreshing to see that effort and final product was made to make it the person’s own.

socrates says:
September 09, 08h

Dave, apart from the images, why would you be upset about someone using the css as a template? How does that “ruin” anything?

Wouldn’t you rather encourage people to take the css file and use it anywhere and everywhere, as they like? What negative aspect could there possibly be?

If the goal is to promote css use, then a mere note in the css file pointing people to the zen site is all that should be asked, even voluntarily as the user wishes (as many promoter’s of techniques often nicely do).

Dan R. says:
September 09, 09h

This is certainly a touchy issue, and as one of the designers whose Zen Garden submission is being used by this “individual”, I’m going to attempt to stay as neutral as possible with my comments.

Regarding the CC license: What’s done is done, Dave knows this, the designers whose work is at stake in this particular situation know this, and each designer will ultimately be responsible for following up with this “individual” if they want to protect their graphics. The CSS is of course another matter, but if we (the designers) want to take this “individual” to task over their use, it is up to us, not Dave.

As long as something positive results from this experience, we will all benefit, as will the Zen Garden and all who learn from it.

I nearly allowed myself to become swept up in the excitement surrounding CC licenses, and was ready to attach one to my site (, and then I read them all *very carefully* – I used to be very interested in copyright law (a few years ago) and I’d like to think I’m a little more informed about some of its nuances than the average person, and I decided that for me, the better choice was to retain copyright over my work, and that if any legitimate individual wanted to reuse any portion of the code, my writings or the graphics, they would contact me first for permission.

Ultimately, that provides the most secure basis for this sort of work – the CSS files for the Zen Garden could certainly have a copyright statement at the top, with specific rights granted to the user either in that file directly, or in a user agreement permanently located on the site (managed like many web hosting user agreements: updateable at will, and the user agrees ahead of time to those updates and changes). It’s more strict, but more protective, while still allowing snippets of CSS to be used, as Dave originally intended.

Thanks again Dave, for all the work you have put into this project (and dealing with this particular “individual”) and for the resource you have provided to the web.

Gabriel says:
September 09, 10h

That’s what happends when you let Stallman-like open source communists run amok on the internet. They’ll try to implement their communal property “vision”.
I guess this guy makes the same argument for stealing MP3 and full movies.

Lucian says:
September 09, 11h

Dave, we understand that you’re trying your best to protect the interests of the artists who participated in the Zen Garden. Don’t feel beat up about it - it is hardly your fault.

Just to brighten up your day a little: The Zen Garden has been a source of inspiration to many, many of us. Trust that we’ll do our part through word-of-mouth in ensuring that his ill-spiritedness will find neither profit nor name.

May integrity prevail.

Michael says:
September 09, 11h

The problem is the unforgiving nature built into everything we do today. Just as in this case, once the work is put into that particular license there’s no ability to adapt. Should the license have a loophole or not fit the need of the original product creator, then there is no recourse for the author of the work. With other copyright licensing the terms are skewed in the opposite direction granting too much power to the producer of the work.

How to strike a balance?

The only thing allowed within the law are punishment and awards. Too often the punishment is far too damaging and the awards are far too rewarding. In this case Dave is being punished by having a work released FOREVER without the ability to modify the mistaken agreement, and whomever is rewarded with a lifetime contract to use the work however he sees fit regardless of if damages anyone elses reputation or goodwill.

In today’s legalistic society we don’t allow for things like “forgiveness”, “correction”, “apologies”, or “rehabilitation”. We do however like words like “punishment”, “reward”, “prosecute”, “win”. Those words are some how much easier to define. It’s so much easier to assume that by creating these hardlined definitions and setting contractual obligations that we are being “fair” and that no bias will creep in. We assume that by strictly setting out all of the guidelines for how something should or should not be used that it will keep people from abusing the system. Of course that’s not true.

I’ve seen the conversation that Dave had a thousand times. Someone creates a work puts it out for display, someone else takes is and uses it for their own purposes. The author goes back and say’s please don’t do that and the offender thumbs their nose “if you didn’t want someone to use it you shouldn’t have put it out there”. And thus the war of words begins. Typically the offender could care less about copyright law or licensing agreements. I hazard a guess that the user of the work in question didn’t know anything about the CC license in effect and simply took something he felt entitled to take because he could see it.

There will always be people like this. These people are the super consumers, always taking never returning. The tighter we attempt to close our fist around them to license them out of abusing a system, the more they slip through our fingers and onto more lucrative rewards.

Franck says:
September 10, 01h

Hello everybody

I am the guy dave is referring to. I want to publicly present my apologizes to Dave and the Css Zen garden community for my words that have been totally out of place. I don’t want to enter here in more discussions, and what some words taken out of context in a speach or in previous emails are or not 100% valid to represent a real situation. Dave is somehow right in what he is saying. Sorry again, Dave, that was not my intention

Just to let you know that:
1. I never intended to steal anything or make money in any way
2. Owners have been contacted, to see whether they were granted me the authorization to use their artwork (jpg & gif) “as-is”. In any other case artwork would have been changed.
3. Both css & html files have been modified to make possible the adaptation to the CMS tool
4. The web site where templates were uploaded is a work section (no traffic has been driven there, except the designers I have contacted). I have made it private access due to the discussion arisen.

Let us positive the things of this sad incident:

- Dave may review its licensing structure, if he thinks this should be more stringent, because legally it seems Css Zen garden is not protected enough
- Real stealers have already stolen & used your work…I have not, but I am the guy who’s attitude stinks…life is funny :-)
- What is the real nature of Css Zen garden… a private gallery or a learning community based on sharing ?Ņ Mission, values & strategic marketing may be reviewed too if relevant
- Talking about brand.. I will personally stay with “socrates” comment…”appart from the images, why would you be upset about someone using the css as a template? How does that “ruin” anything ?Ņ “

last thing, I have nothing to deal with the CMS open source project, I am just a user of it

Best regards to all, your work is great, keep making newbies and other designers learn by sharing your knowledge over the net.

The ethic behind the problem that we have been faced here is as simple as: “Should Art be made available to the mass ?Ņ”

My answer is yes, protecting the author of the original art.

Once again sorry

Didier Hilhorst says:
September 10, 01h

As one of the artists involved I have read each comment in this thread with much attention. So far I have noticed two ways of approaching this matter: legal vs. ethical (moral). As others have mentioned above the ethical (moral) issues have little to no meaning in a courtroom; although ultimatly I could argue this, but theoretically speaking this is true (laws are in essence translations of ethical and moral matters within social interactions).

Now the legal aspect of this matter is pretty clear: as long as the person in question does not use any of the images (which are copyrighted artwork) he is entitled to use the CSS to his or her likings. The CC license permits to copy CSS files wholesale and redistribute them without explicit permission from the original creator.

The world wide web (internet) has always been an open medium. This is an inheritance from an academic spirit and was an ideal network for RFC’s, articles and papers. By sharing material one could improve its work and include references to other work. Eventually the open source mouvement uses this exact scheme to share knowledge and experiences and I think it is a great concept for software. I however think it is less suitable for artwork.

I think it is important to stress that an open medium does not by definition mean that anything going through that medium is free and belongs to the public domain. Most of us are familiar with organisations such as the RIAA and BSA (I however do not agree with all of their actions). Somehow downloading MP3’s and illegal software has become normal. It is fairly easy and the open spririt of the world wide web has become a justification of those actions and ultimatly refute any moral objections.

I was contacted by this person in question personally. Although I had no legal right to not grant him permission (except for the images) I tried to explain why I would rather not have him use my submission as a template.

“My submission was exclusively produced for the CSS Zen Garden. I never duplicate my work to be featured on different sites (in principle). I believe in uniqueness of art. The spirit and idea behind the CSS Zen Garden project is important to me and as such I want this design to stay exclusively associated with it. Granting permission to whomever wants to use this design as a template would deteriorate the concept (in my opinion). Itís like those popular Louis Vuitton bags: whatís the point of owning a real one if half the world is walking around with a fake one. If you are not familiar with Louis Vuitton bags think of Rolex watches instead.”

In this case I’m actually not talking about the individual CSS rules and definitions themselves, which are obviously not the issue here. However the combined set of rules and definitions in that file define my design.

Again, as others have stated above this person is still entitled to use the CSS as such. The CC license permits this. Eventually I will have to agree, whether I like it or not. Simple.

One thing that has not been mentioned here are the intentions of the person. I suspect this person did go through with his project way too far to make a u-turn and drop the templates. It is pretty obvious from the way he is dealing with this situation. If he is not granted permission his whole project is off and relegated to oblivion. Now you can interpret this any way you want but other peoples efforts are certainly not used for learning purposes.

The bottomline is that Dave needs to change the license for the CSS Zen Garden (as he already did). As I understood from other commentors this change will only affect future submissions while the current 44 designs are legally bound to the Creative Commons ShareAlike 1.0 license. Whatever my personal opinion on the matter I have to stick to this. My only weapon in cases of abuse is limited to my personal preference and goodwill of users (abusers) on the other end.

Anonymous Coward says:
September 10, 02h

I am amazed at the naivety of most of the comments in this thread. If you use a license such as the one that Dave used, you can be sure that someone will take full advantage of the license. This has nothing to do with our current culture. It is the way business has always been and will most likely always be done. It is the reason that most people should always have a lawyer review *and explain the nuances* of any contract they sign. And nowadays review any license that you use to publish your work. My guess is that most of the “outraged” comments above are from people who are under 30 and have very little experience in business world.

who is ~50 with plenty of experience in the world of business

Adrian Howard says:
September 10, 02h

Dave, quick question…

When you chose the CC licence originally you seem to have misinterpreted its purpose. Do you think that the way the licence was presented to you could have been made clearer so that you could have picked something that was more appropriate for your goals?

Personally I’ve found the CC licensing site a model of clarity (and I’ve used them for some things depending on how I felt about reuse) and find it difficult to see how you could have got the wrong end of the stick as it were…

This isn’t meant as a criticism - I’ve made licensing mistakes in the past myself - but I was wondering if the licence could have been better presented so others don’t make the same mistake.

Didier Hilhorst says:
September 10, 02h

Although I must agree with our Anonymous Coward I like to add a few comments.

From a legal point of view we are indeed f*cked. Feelings do not play a role (how sad this might sound) in business as such. In the end it is all about money, women, fame, profit, and stocks (et. al.).

However this project is not intended as business. Sure, some submissions are bound to surface in commercial work. So be it. But do not forget that most of the perpetrators are under 30 too - thus naive. In most cases a warning or explenation is enough.

Big corporations settle their differences in court. But do you really think I (in this case) am going to call my laywer to ask him to see if my work is being used in a way that is suitable or does not infringe copyright? No! He would propably kick my ass and tell me I am responsible for my own actions and should face the consequences if I agreed with established license agreements.

In matters where I have no legal grounds to protect my work from abuse I only have my personal view and opinion on the matter left. It is weak, but in most cases works. In the end most of the copied work does not end up on high-profile websites or places. And if it does? Well, too bad, because there is not a damn thing I can do about it.

Paul says:
September 10, 05h

Personally I think that using the images is the only thing this guy has done wrong.

I don’t see how anybody can claim ownership over the way a combination of xhtml and css has been strung together because at the end of the day both of those languages are available to everybody to use and more importantly how they choose to use them too.

However, If this person just copied all the images, css and xhtml code files from one computer to another and palmed them off as his own work then that is wrong because you and the zen garden designer in question are the creators/authors of those files.

MikeyC says:
September 10, 05h

Paul: “I donít see how anybody can claim ownership over the way a combination of xhtml and css has been strung together because at the end of the day both of those languages are available to everybody to use and more importantly how they choose to use them too.”

I guess books are just a combination of alpha-numeric characters strung together, eh?

forgetfoo says:
September 10, 05h

wow. i think this is pretty crappy, and i’m sorry to hear it, dave…

on the upside (being the optimist here), i’ve learned something new today about licensing and ownership… to be honest, i’ve never thought of my .CSS files as being off limits to people… i’ve always sorta grouped my .css files in with HTML, but draw the line (sometimes) at my .JS files - cuz original scripting or programming is one thing, but style’n something another… be with with a TABLE or a styled DIV.

copy wholesale designs created by others, including the graphics, is just disgusting… maybe you should create something like “Pirated Sites” for the Garden? just a thought…

Dylan says:
September 10, 07h

You have more than enough “junk” (no offense anyone) to read here so I’ll make this short.

I don’t know what the letter of the law is but, instead of making it very restrictive to use, perhaps you could use some sort of positive opt box on entry to force a person to select an, “I will not use any of the information I find on this site for purposes other than education.” Or something of the like.

That will allow this to continue to be a great source of information and demonstrate the potential of the technology with limited exposure to this sort of situation.

Also, you may or may not remember me but about 2 months ago I asked to use some of the pages for a presentation I was doing. I just wanted to again say thank you and let you know that it went very well and I think many of the people present now see some more of the options available to them.

It would be a shame to loose this source of information.
Please don’t take our sunshine away.

John says:
September 10, 07h

“Generally, if you create a work, you own the copyright from the moment of creation. The only way you can lose copyright is if you sign it away in writing. Even though you don’t legally need to, it doesn’t hurt to attach that little © to your work.”

Thanks for the projects.
I have no doubt, re Zen Garden, that respect outweighs contempt by a country mile.



brent says:
September 10, 08h

Dave - I am very sorry - though not surprised - to read of the “hijacking” this morning. I have turned to CSS Zen Garden on a near daily basis for the past several months seeking information and inspiration. Though I have examined the CSS often, I have found that the best way for me to learn is to try to emulate a given layout or effect by writing my own code and referring back to the Garden to see how well I can achieve it using my own techniques.

Sadly, there will always be people who wish to take the low-road, the path of least resistance, etc. and stand upon the backs of others to get where they want to go. I agree with one of the above posts in that the community will eventually decide the fate of the individual, by supporting or boycotting the site/system which he/she is developing. I fear, however, that all those bloggers out there who also want the easy way, will pay no heed to a boycott of a “pirated” site. They just want something that looks good.

I wish you luck in setting more strict terms with the Garden, and I certainly appreciate that you took the risk in creating it. Hopefully the rewards that you have reaped - from designers all over the globe - in sharing it will outweigh the problems that these petty theives create for you. Be well.

brent says:
September 10, 08h

And one more comment to those pointing out the legalities of using the code, etc.:

Something tells me, based on the quotes from the e-mail exchanges, that the person using the code has virtually NO understanding of the CC license. It seems, rather, that they are simply making assumptions about what is “free” on the web. To someone who can’t even use a spellchecker on their e-mail (or someone who needs a spellchecker in the first place) a CC license is probably as foreign as Webster himself.

Eric says:
September 10, 09h

The attribution aspect here is interesting to me. The license says the attribution must be “reasonable to the medium”, a very lawyer-ish term. Does this mean the name of the author has to be visible or just stashed away in the css file? My viewpoint would be that putting it in only the css file would be fine, unless the page has a “designed by” or “powered by” on it (common with CMS), at which point I would think it would be “reasonable” to include the name of the CSS designer in a similar manner.

Jai says:
September 10, 10h

Yeah, the CC allows the Lazy One to use the CSS code in it’s entirety. That sucks. Oh well, let’s move on.

If he uses the graphics, though, nail his lazy hands to the wall. That is explicit violation of the Zen Garden’s expressed liscence.

A person such as the one in question will eventually run into legal trouble, because if he can’t write his own code, eventually someone will see that and take him intoa legal ringer. This time he gets away on a technicality. Next time… maybe not. Let’s hope justice and integrity prevail.

September 10, 10h

“you can feel free to steal bits and pieces, learn from, and generally plunder the CSS as long as you donít approach it as a template. The line is fuzzy and vague”

Sorry, but that’s just *begging* for this to happen. This is where his incorrect sense of entitlement comes from. We all learned from View-Source, and it is impossible to define “STEAL and PLUNDER, but not too much.” Can you really be mad when someone steals and plunders?

Chris Cooper says:
September 10, 10h

I just found this site today, and I have to say that I’m greatly impressed by the raw power that CSS can wield on a page. I’ve never thought of some of the things I’ve seen in the submitted designs. I feel truely inspired to rethink the redesign of my site that I’m working on to make it less dependant on the design itself. That being said, what kind of idiot would grab everything and decide to throw it in some project without even so much as asking? I’m sure that if each artist had been contacted on the matter, most would’ve been flattered and agreed to their designs being a part of this content management system. I know that if I had submitted a design and had been asked, I’d be proud, but woe be to anyone who ripped it off wholesale without asking.

@ Patrick Lioi: Did you even READ what you quoted? Here it is again, and pay attention to the actual words this time.

?you can feel free to steal bits and pieces, learn from, and generally plunder the CSS as long as you don?t approach it as a template.”

This guy is taking the whole thing and using it as a template. These aren’t bits and pieces we’re talking about here.

Chris Cooper says:
September 10, 11h

“I don’t see how anybody can claim ownership over the way a combination of xhtml and css has been strung together because at the end of the day both of those languages are available to everybody to use and more importantly how they choose to use them too.”

So, I’m sure id software wouldn’t be upset if I used their Quake 3 game engine (minus graphics) for a project and claimed it was my own creation then? I mean, who can claim ownership over the way a combination of C++ code was used because at the end of the day that language is available to everybody to use, and more importantly, how they choose to use it.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

(sorry for the double post.. just saw this one)

September 10, 11h

the css zengarden has done nothing but help thousands of people (myself included) in understanding that css can be used to seperate content from design, and to make beautiful webpages. thank you so much for it, and know that the good it does will outlast the bad.

Sophie says:
September 10, 12h

This person contacted me asking to use my css and modify my graphics for use *both* on the cms templates and the part of his website devoted to cms templates download.

I asked for a preview of what he intended to do with it, and after seeing it my answer was ‘no’.
The design and adaptations were rather ugly.

I refused to send the photoshop files he requested, but I don’t mind if he uses the css file and does whatever he likes with it. I *think* the License allows this and I accept it.
I wouldn’t like to see him use my graphics, though.

Lloyd, this person doesn’t seem to be directly linked with the open source cms project, which I think doesn’t deserve to suffer from a third party ‘strange’ efforts.

I’ve seen my zengarden css file used in a weblog, with different images, and I felt this adaptation had followed the rules.
This kind of use also allows non-webdesigners to choose a css layout for a personal weblog, and that’s one of the points of the css zen garden idea, propagating css use.

Jim says:
September 11, 02h

Paul: “I don?t see how anybody can claim ownership over the way a combination of xhtml and css has been strung together because at the end of the day both of those languages are available to everybody to use and more importantly how they choose to use them too.”

Not sure I understand this - the latin alphabet is available to everyone to use too, but as soon as you start sticking those characters together into words and sentences you gain ownership of the text and ideas that you’re presenting.

Seriously, though, it sounds like we need a license that protects intellectual propery without restricting fair use of someone else’s ideas (properly attributed, of course.)

Chris Cooper says:
September 11, 02h

@paul: You’re still missing the point. Back to my Q3 engine example… sure, anyone could program the exact same thing.. but they didn’t. Even if they did, they didn’t do it first. Now there are times when 2 people have almost the exact same idea across the country from each other, but one will get the patent in first and be credited as the inventor. Even so, if 2 people have the idea for a layout on a site, it will not be letter for letter identical in the code. That just doesn’t happen. Granted, there’s the old saying that 1000 monkeys with typewriters will eventually create the entire works of shakespear… but usenet has been around for years and it looks nothing like hamlet =)

There’s a big difference between saying that anyone could come up with the idea and saying that it’s ok to steal something because you could’ve potentially done it anyway, but were either too lazy or uninspired. You don’t seem to grasp that distinction.

I mean, I could use the same brush strokes and colors to make a painting… call it the LisaMona… but if it looks exactly like the MonaLisa, it doesn’t matter, because it’s obviously a ripoff. It would never make it as the centerpiece in a museum, no matter how well it was painted, because it wasn’t CREATED… it was merely copied.

Overall, I don’t think it’s fair to make a distinction between the layout of a page done in CSS and one done in photoshop. Putting little boxes of color with various border designs on a page, and arranging them in a way that is pleasing to the eye is still an artform. Those same boxes could be made in the exact same spots in photoshop, but it would take a LOT longer to load. You seem to think that the inefficient graphic method is wrong to copy, but the more efficient CSS version is fair game. That’s just wrong in my mind. If they are visually identical, who cares how it got on the screen. Both versions required the same artistic talent to plan.

Peter says:
September 11, 03h

brent wrote:
_Something tells me, based on the quotes from the e-mail exchanges, that the person using the code has virtually NO understanding of the CC license. It seems, rather, that they are simply making assumptions about what is ďfreeĒ on the web. To someone who canít even use a spellchecker on their e-mail (or someone who needs a spellchecker in the first place) a CC license is probably as foreign as Webster himself._

How about the person in question not being a native English speaker? That would also make understanding the licenses difficult, and the *unusual* spellings point to this fact as well. Don’t slag someone off without knowing the facts (as if I do either… hmmm).

Seriously, I don’t see the problem with people using the CSS files, so long as they use their own images. What would have happened if the first people to use tables for layout had kicked up a fuss when others pinched the tables, changed the links, images and text (and sometimes the colours), and republished? These things happen.

The authors should be proud that they are helping to spread CSS based designs across the web. Think where CSS designs would be if we hadn’t had the layout reservoir by BlueRobot and other similar sites. Think of CSSZenGarden as the next step on from this. That is how I believe it should be seen. Not just as a showcase of designers’ talent, to be looked at but no more.

September 11, 05h

I guess what I was trying to say was that, what one person can create in css and xhtml equally so can somebody else.

All cars have stearing wheels but nobody tries to claim ownership of them.

You can’t really stop somebody from using a similar or even identical combination of box’s, text styles and formatting of a page, or at least I don’t think so. If they are using your graphics and that is different. Maybe I am still wrong but to be honest this sort of thing bores me.

kriss heimanis says:
September 11, 06h

Hi all, I just submitted my own design for zengarden and noticed this sad state of affairs.

In reading your posts i began to get worried: “have i done this awful thing too?!?”

i downloaded many different css to put together my own, but all i was doing was seeing an effect that I wanted, i used other peoples css to see how theyd done it and then adapted it to suit my own design.

After further reading i was happy to see that im not as evil as i thought.- yay!

My zengarden submission is pretty much the first page id put together entirely in css. Most of what i know about css is thanks to zengarden, although i have printed out hundreds of pages of reference from the w3c, w3schools, bluerobot and the like, i have found csszengarden to be the most helpful.

I just think its a real pity that people can take advantage of such a great resource.

when i first looked at the site, it was clear to me: you can look at the css and learn from it, but what you do must be your own, and all images remain the property of the designer. That was without reading the licence, and i thought it would all be pretty much common sense??

why cant people just be nice?

mike says:
September 11, 07h

Re: Didier Hillhorst’s comments.
He says opensource is a great concept for academics but not for artists. The great irony is that without that original openness there wouldn’t be software or a web. Most of the art he refers to wouldn’t have got beyond the artist’s bedroom wall. Sure there are going to be rip-offs but personally I find some of the responses to this guys actions more offensive than what he’s done. A little too much preciousness maybe?
P.S. What’s the point in owning a Louis Vuitton bag anyway, jeeez!

Michael says:
September 11, 10h

“All cars have stearing wheels but nobody tries to claim ownership of them. “

And there you would be wrong. There are patents past and present that claim ownership over the steering wheel as well as almost every single thing around you, inside or outside of the car. Some companies want patents on YOUR GENES and on the chemical process happening in YOUR body when you take one of THEIR pills. Of course patents are not copyrights but their somewhat related since they all start with the premise of owning an idea.

September 12, 01h

Yeah Chris, when you put it like that you are probably right. I am not affraid to admit when I am wrong, specially when somebody makes a point rationally and ellequently as you have, which makes a nice change from the usual insult slinging that happens all to often on the internet.

Chris Cooper says:
September 12, 02h

I’m rather fond of serious debate on topics myself, but it is hard to find someone to debate with who doesn’t degenerate into an insult fest =) Thanks for the pleasant surprise

As for the rest of you… stealing code is bad.. learning from code is another thing altogether.

Give a man a CSS template, and you make him a site… teach a man CSS and you make him a webmaster! =)

Michael says:
September 12, 08h

Chris and Paul: Unlike you two a significant amount of conversations between people (on the internet and in person) inolve those who either cannot admit fault, cannot commit to change, or cannot stand to “lose”. When they have no valid arguments left to offer up that’s when the fall back of insults and rudeness ensue. It’s difficult for people to let go of ego and to understand that the person on the other end may be actually offering you something that in the end will make you a better person.

Didier Hilhorst says:
September 12, 12h


Software is not art nor is the interent as such. You could of course argue this but I am sure you understand what I mean. Ripping happens in academic surroundings aswel and is known as plagiarism. Nevertheless one researcher might use and include another researcher’s work to improve existing theories or find new ones. In all cases material that is included and written by others should be properly referenced; stated with a source.

The above method of research and use can not be effectively applied to art. I can not take a painting by Picasso and improve it. It just does not make sense. Likewise I can not take a design wholesale and improve it (improving something is always a matter of taste and is a subjective matter). You can however improve software. That’s why I think an open source structure is more suitable for software or academic surroundings.

The lines are blurry. Maybe I should be flattered that my work is used elsewhere and to a certain degree I am. Maybe I concider my work important while it’s not. Maybe I should feel less proprietary about my work. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

Lastly the quality of work has no impact on this discussion. You could concider any piece of art (tradional or digital) a piece of junk. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

The Louis Vuitton bags are just stated as an example. Whether a person would actually buy one is a matter of personal taste (and money).

Sian says:
September 28, 03h

For once I’ve been rendered speechless. It’s one thing to be inspired and full of admiration for another’s work but it’s a whole new realm when you try and pass it as your own. Where’s the creativity and self pride gone?

May 12, 06h

Hmmm, I’ve read this through a couple of times now and although it makes me angry that the chap in question is obviously in the wrong, knows it, and is still fighting his corner it does raise some interesting copyright points…

Who actually owns CSS? It’s a language that’s freely available for anyone to build using basic markup constraints, in very much the same way as HTML, at the end of the day no matter how clever your code is it’s simply made out of a selection of markers from a library so what right realistically do you have to hold it as your own?

I suppose the semantic you could have this chap on is that it’s the ‘design’ he’s stealing, that is intelectually copyrighted to whoever produced it should they decide to inforce that right, however if the design has been altered so only the structure remains then the case I would imagine would become tenuous?

I can fully appreciate your anger, I’ve had my own work stolen by people who (frankly) couldn’t be f*cked to get up and do their own creative, it really hurts to see work you’ve toiled over taken from you and used in a different enviroment to the one you envisaged it in, but the law around the use of other people’s HTML and CSS is shady to say the least as I’ve said before it can readily be argued that it’s simply a structural language made up out of a pre-defined library of components, so how can someone possibly steal it?

My personal advice would be to make designers and techie alike aware of the copyright of intelectual property, if you can prove you have designed the attributes that the CSS and HTML then support (i.e graphics, rich media, typography, photography etc) then you’ll have a much stronger case to try and keep hold of the hard work you put into designing the code that forms the framework that holds the attributes together.

July 26, 01h

I’ve had the same thing, and from a friend too. Not nice.