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Weblog Entry

The Price of Theft

March 19, 2004

The relative ease of stealing someone else’s CSS-based design has been at the top of my radar over the past few weeks. I really don’t have the time to write the analysis I’d like to, but suffice it to say that nobody wants this issue to go away more than me, and no one realizes yet how much of a problem this is going to become over the next few months/years.

What I want to draw your attention to is that, due to a few reasons revolving around re-use of his design, Andy Budd has asked me to remove his popular ‘sub:lime’ design from the CSS Zen Garden, the former #046. I have complied.

Andy’s feelings surrounding re-use of his work have been voiced by more than one contributor, and while many are open about allowing others to modify their base design, some are not. There definitely seems to be a price to the success we’re enjoying, and because there are so many contributors, each one is going to have a different attitude toward paying that price. Which is to be expected, but I have no idea how to cope when I’m caught squarely in the middle.

I’m not at all happy that this was necessary though. It’s the start of a slippery slope, and it’s going to cause me to re-write submission requirements yet again. I’ve been very sensitive toward each designer’s needs throughout all this, but I now understand quite a bit better why contest organizers and media promoters require participants to sign waivers.

There’s a balance here, but I’m having trouble finding it. The Garden has to be open, which means a small percentage of bad eggs will abuse that openness. The designer’s rights have to be protected, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to the rest of us for one to ride the success for a while and back out when it gets messy.

Lest we all walk away from this with a bitter taste in our mouths, I’d like to note that while I am incredibly disappointed in those re-using his work in commercial situations, I’m not angry at Andy himself. He has made a decision for his own work that, given the terms when he submitted, I guess he’s allowed to make.

But I would like to encourage him and others to realize three things. A more restrictive license won’t stop any of this from happening, since those who set out to rip off others’ work will do it regardless of copyright. And running away from the problem isn’t the solution, because when you’re producing design work, it will get ripped off sooner or later. Trying to hide it under lock and key deprives the rightful audience, it takes money out of your pocket (how can you make a living off of design work that nobody sees?) and it leads to the scary groupthink of the music industry. A slippery slope indeed.

Finally, the group of people seeing a design who then decide to steal it are really rather small. Don’t be fooled by the blind spot — for every 1 person who steals your work, 15 or 90 or 700 others have seen it and been inspired to create new and fresh work of their own. You may not ever hear from them, but they’re out there, and they’re the ones who suffer for it.

Don’t let the bastards bring you down. They can steal one of your works, but they can’t steal your soul. Keep on creating because there’s only one you, and the world is dimmer without your creative energy.