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YC and 500 Startups company Curebit caught stealing from 37 Signals (venturebeat.com)
306 points by bhuga on Jan 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 237 comments

What scares me most is how many people here seem to think it is OK or 'not that bad'.

I don't know a designer who hasn't or doesn't draw inspiration from other websites. However, that process goes something like this...

1) Look at website. || 2) Assess what is good about the design || 3) Mock up own version.

What a decent person doesn't do is rip the existing site. HTML + all. Tweak it slightly then publish it.

What Curebit did is indefensible. This is something some 2-bit web designer fob's off to a client paying $200 for a website... the fact Curebit is a start up is not a defense. It is frankly scary that a company can get $1M+ in funding and not realise they cannot just rip other peoples work...

I'm as disturbed as you are.

Having seen the shenanigans of a bunch of Bay Area startups, and based on the tone of the responses in this thread, I'd gather that this quote from the article is a bit off base:

> "Your conversion rates or, you know, your credibility and integrity and the ability to have lunch in Silicon Valley ever again."

It would seem that, based on the tone here on HN, that these people will be able to have many, many more lunches in Silicon Valley. Hopefully they won't dine and dash.

In what way is the world a better place when you have to reimplement the design from scratch - as opposed to a world where anyone can copy a design (assuming some credit is given)?

Sounds like the latter world will free up a lot of resources for more useful creative work.

Design done well is fantastically useful, fantastically creative work.

It is an art, and you do not reward those who are good at it by copying not just their ideas but their actual works.

I agree, as a developer who does not have much talent for design, that it would be a 'better' world for me if I could just grab the html from places that do have that talent and not suffer for it.

It is hard in an area where you dont have much to offer, to accept that you do not have a right to take from those who do, but accepting that and learning to work within those constraints will make you both a better person and a better developer.

I haven't tried design, so I don't know if I have talent for it or not. But I do have talent for programming, and I don't mind people copying my knowledge and work there, assuming: A) a world where everyone does so, B) credit is given.

Fair enough. I am also happy to share my knowledge, such as it is, with whoever wants it. Some of my code I am happy to share, some I make money off and I would rather nobody copy wholesale to compete, some I have done on behalf of clients and cannot make the decision on. The nice thing about the world as it is, is you and I mostly have a choice about how we share our work and where/when we make our source code available.

The interesting thing about designers is that on the whole, they have less of a choice. Everything that they do is out in the open and - if they do their job well - lots of people see it and want to copy it.

One of the bad things about the world as it is, is it encourages people to release things closed, because they can make more financially that way -- and we get a very closed world.

In an open world, we could all be making derivative works of awesome works and advance the state of the art, rather than having to duplicate it first, before advancing it.

Without copyright (the law) there would be an even bigger incentive to obfuscate things or move them to the cloud. DRM only exists because the law by itself doesn't work. This is not an easy problem to fix.

DRM is backed by the law, and without its backing it would become a laughable measure that is completely ignored by everyone after the first hacker releases a DRM-free version that is completely legal.

Because of the fundamental concept of property, and ownership, and the right to control your own creations?

It's one thing to voluntarily release something into the public domain (or enable its direct re-use via licenses like Creative Commons).

It's another thing to say that all work should be public property, usable as long as credit is given. Or are you suggesting that everything belongs to the People, comrade?

Even disregarding the profit motive for a second here - if I created a successful web page, should, say, the Westboro Baptist Church be free to take my web page and use it to support their (IMO vile) efforts, so long as they gave credit?

True, it is another thing, but I'll say it: all work (obviously, in this context of digital "intellectual property") should be public. I left "property" off the end of the sentence for the same reason I put "intellectual property" in quotes: I don't believe that property rights make sense when applied to abstract, non-scarce things like ideas and digital works. 

This really isn't about controlling the fruits of your labor, because creative works are really only valuable if they're distributed. If you want to design a website and keep it secret on your local machine, then by all means property rights protect it (i.e. it's illegal to steal your laptop). But if you distribute it on a global network where people freely trade bits, I don't believe you should have the right to control which bits people can copy and which bits they can't.

Both choices (keeping the website secret or publishing it) constitute your legal rights to the fruits of your labor. But once someone gets the bits onto their computer with your consent (by visiting your public website), I don't believe you should have the right to control what they can do with those bits. 

If you like, I believe you have the right to perform any obfuscation you want to with your digital works, or find ways of providing scarce (non-copyable) value. DRM and software as a service are examples of these, respectively.

This is the same argument that was had about whether it was OK to make photocopies of content in books and magazines at the library, or record a radio broadcast or TV program. I would agree with you that up to a point it is: the content is made available to or broadcast to the public, and that implies a certain license to personally do what you want with it once you receive it. Hence copying or scanning printed material for later reference, time-shifting TV programs and sports events with DVR is generally and legally recognized as "OK" (I believe that "fair use" is the legal term here).

Likewise when you put your creative content on the internet, you are implicitly granting some license to people who view that content. They can view the source, study your CSS and javascript, save it for offline viewing if they want.

But when you take someone else's content, be it a book, a TV broadcast or a web site design, copy it either completely or substantially, and then proceed to personally profit from that work without the permission of the creator, you've crossed the line. Granted the distinction between copying (bad) and imitation (flattery?) can be fuzzy, but in this case it seems very clear.

Do you ever wonder why law is so complicated? Maybe it's because the people who make them have a vested interest in complicating matters such that lawyers become necessary. The same logic that you are advocating is what is necessitating the existence of IP law and IP lawyers.

If we simply say that with regards to information, no laws except the laws of nature are necessary, then some lawyers will lose their jobs, but there will be less friction and eddy currents in the system. Overall our endeavors will be more productive and quality of life will generally improve.

You can't eat bits. When everything else is non-scarce, you can reasonably argue that everything should be freely available. Until then, the right to control licensing is the simplest and most fair way for a creative professional to convert their effort into scarce resources.

> * You can't eat bits.*

True, but you're implying that if someone offers a product that's not inherently and nearly universally valuable (like food), then the government should step in and enforce a monopoly for them to distribute their product. Why should manufacturers of scarce goods have to come up with their own ways to differentiate their product to prevent people from turning to competing firms, but artists get a free government-enforced monopoly on distribution?

> the right to control licensing is the simplest and most fair way for a creative professional to convert their efforts into scarce resources.

I'm not saying that it is simple, but artists need to realize that digital works are inherently almost completely free (libre and gratis), and figure out ways to offer scarce products that have value. The obvious example is concerts and merchandise. Another example is dead simple digital downloads that can compete with pirated content. There are problably more examples I can't think of, and even more that no one has figured out yet.

To have no rules is the simplest and most fair way for a creative professional to convert their effort into scarce attention, which leads to scarce resources.

If you do not do anything new and worthy of my attention tomorrow, I do not want you to have my bread.

People should have control over their creations long enough to make it worth the effort. I might as well go do something more profitable if I can't make a living from my own creations in the way that's most efficient (licensing). Encouraging creation is the point of copyright. We shouldn't throw the whole system out just because a few rogue organizations are abusing it.

> People should have control over their creations long enough to make it worth the effort.

We don't actually know that it would enhance authorship. Current restrictions on copying also heavily restrict authorship -- because most authorship could have been derivative works, and those are disallowed.

So it is not clear whether we're helping authorship or destroying it, and I'm betting on the latter.

Also, authors have control over their works until they distribute them -- and that is enough to make money. Maybe it would make significantly less money, but that too isn't clear that it will not be enough to be worth the effort.

The reward of creation for me is the act of creation itself and the giving of my creation to others to build upon. It is an interaction, not a transaction.

I prefer not to consume your copyrighted work. The nature of copyright is such that it becomes abusive. If you are the creative type whose bread depends on your ability to restrict others from copying or modifying your work, you inevitably become abusive.

I encourage the kind of positive creation that breaks out of or transcends such a system.

You still haven't made a case for your position. "The system will be abused, so we need to get rid of the system" is not a sound argument. Why do you think we should toss the system and not adjust it to help protect the public from abuses? Copyright worked fine for centuries before the RIAA and MPAA showed up. Its protections gave creators incentive to create in a world where money is exchanged for scarce resources.

Where is your case? Your "creators" aren't helping the very real scarcity problem that you refer to. My case is based on simple mathematics. By adopting a radically simple and natural law, (that information should not be regulated at the federal//global level) we as a society free ourselves from the burden of having to manage the artificial scarcity of "intellectual property", and we gain additional man-power to focus on real problems.

Let me paint a picture for you. A bunch of people on earth need bread, and there isn't enough to go around to satisfy all the demand for bread. In order to feed the "creators" the people made up some notion of "intellectual property" so that these "creators" can be guaranteed their daily bread. Since it costs next to nothing in today's technological world to copy information, the "creators" have devised a legal system and an army of lawyers whose job it is to interpret the written law such that the "creators" are paid their due in accordance to "intellectual property" law. The people spend a significant portion of their time either (1) recreating works that already had been created (to abide by these laws), (2) paying lawyers to sue other "infringers", (3) devising new methods of DRM or anti-DRM hacking measures or (4) lobbying the lawmakers to change the law in their favor, all the while (5) complicating the system even further, and (6) leaving the real problem of natural scarcity (bread) unsolved because the "intellectual property" required to innovate in bread-making is locked away and controlled by the existing bread making industry.

This society is diseased with the obsessive dwelling upon past memories, and it is adversely affecting its ability to tackle current and future problems. I don't know what copyright was like before the RIAA and MPAA, but I do know that the nature of copyright per se has changed relative to the advancement of technology. Whether or not the old laws used to be Ok does not matter because the environment is completely different.

Your argument holds some ground against Communism, where ALL property is considered common. The mathematics of human motivation, human needs, and natural resource limitations do not appear to add up. But when it comes to resources of information, I dare to think that sharing as much as possible is better and more efficient overall, even considering game theoretic dynamics in our capitalistic system.

I understand the beauty of the system of capitalism where those who create are rewarded by their toil and the virtue of voluntary transactions, but "intellectual property" goes against free trade by creating an artificial scarcity where the consumer is barred from certain voluntary transactions for the sake of "protection". As far as I can tell these IP laws only serve to protect existing established IP right holders, who are but a tiny portion compared to the magnitude of potential creators if only everybody else had the freedom to improve upon existing works unencumbered by patents or copyright.

I don't believe that ALL information should be shared. I believe in the right to privacy (for individuals and organizations) as long as you can reasonably keep the information secret to yourself. But when it comes to information that is easily copyable by virtue of technology, I believe it should be allowed to be copied freely. That is, Bradley Manning may have committed a crime by transferring information outside the bounds of the military complex, but once the information is leaked, it is anybody's data. The military has the right to secure its information borders, but it doesn't get to change the nature of the internet to censor sensitive information. Likewise, I believe consumers have the right to distribute files however they want regardless of what the content "creator" wishes.

I should also mention that my "common sense" often rejects what I said above, but after some deliberation it becomes clear that my sense are misleading when it comes to judging a system that is so different from the one that I am already used to. I did initially balk at what Curebit did to 37Signal's design code, but would in fact choose to live in a world where what Curebit did was acceptable, and it would not hinder me from innovating in any way.

You seem to be talking about lawyers, not creators. I send a simple email if someone is using my creations in an unreasonable way, and a DMCA request if it's serious. I don't use DRM on most of my ebooks since I'm fine with fair use, and I don't agree with the RIAA/MPAA's idea of "piracy."

I get that sharing creative works is like a tax. I pay it back to the society that made it possible so others have the same chance, and I'm fine with that. I don't support the infinite copyright extensions companies like Disney push for.

But handing my creations out to people for free won't solve poverty. As I said, you can't eat bits. It'll just force me to go do something I enjoy less, and keep me from having as much time to create.

What follows is my 2 cents, all my unsolicited yet thought-out opinion & advice tailored for you. I hope it makes a positive impact.

I see what you're doing. I don't know how successful you are, but it has to be suboptimal. You're publishing books in such a way that you mistakenly believe is optimized for monetary gain -- reusing content, publishing many small books for cheap etc.

Your last book is about how to gain blog viewers, yet you're not doing the right things in order to achieve real success. Market research is the old way. What you need to do today is say something new, talk-worthy, & something that really worked for you.

Make your webpage more navigable, polish your books and give them away for free (and have a paid donation option), market your books effectively, read what Cory Doctorow has to say about publishing success at craphound.com. I would love to read about future experiments with giving polished content away for free.

That you even used a DMCA takedown request tells me that what you write is not interesting. The DMCA is not really there to protect your works, friend. It exists to serve established publishers. You're not one of "them", and you're not going to become one of "them", because "they" don't want you. But no doubt you can be a wildly successful publisher on your own if you do the right things, but first you need to think outside the box.

ps I appreciate this thread we've been building up. I didn't know that you are a publisher yourself. I give you "legal" permission to use my words here on HN for your benefit as long as you give me attribution.

> Because of the fundamental concept of property, and ownership, and the right to control your own creations?

heh, good thing this crowd sincerely applies that ethic to music and visual art/entertainment.

I don't think the community in general objects to ownership of music and visual art/entertainment. The objection usually centers around the draconian and unethical ways of enforcing this ownership.

You can support the concept of intellectual ownership without supporting the draconian (and sometimes illegal) means by which some people would like to enforce said ownership. We can also accept the reality and futility of perfect control of your creations without relinquishing moral claim to our creative work.

But we're talking about ideas and expressions, not property.

Yes, the WBC should be allowed to copy if everyone else is.

The benefits seem to me to dwarf the downsides.

So you oppose the GPL, Apache, and BSD licenses? Or really, any software license? After all, they are conditions for the distribution and derivation of a creative work.

You support private companies taking this freely-given resource, creating products from it, profiting from them, and not release the source as the conditions demand?

Well, given that I oppose copyright, I support the GPL -- exactly because it uses copyright restrictions to neutralize copyright restrictions.

In other words, the only restrictions placed by the GPL are those that restrict use of copyright -- and I definitely support those.

Apache and BSD licenses are basically only anti-plagiarizing, afaik.

How would companies profit from a work that everyone can freely copy, in a way that does not add value to society and indeed to the original author?

BSD, Apache and many other licenses allow exactly this: derived works may be released under proprietary license.

In a world where anyone can copy a design, there is very little incentive for people to be creative. Why would I do the hard work of creating something if someone else can just appropriate my work for free?

In short, there would be no designs to worth copying in the first place. Incentive to work is fundamental problem in any communal property system.

Assuming credit is granted.

Creatives work on design to be creative; they don't outright steal it to save time and resources. It's what thy do and witness what happens when you cross them.

I think the OP is about copyright infringement and plagiarism, which is a form of fraud. I do not justify it but it is not theft.

I don't think the world has much to benefit from plagiarism, but I think the benefits of copying others' work and building upon them freely far outweigh the downsides.

>"It is frankly scary that a company can get $1M+ in funding and not realise they cannot just rip other peoples work..."

And more to come. This is an inevitably when your business model revolves around getting as many start ups money as you can in the hopes that some hit it big. It's inherent when you don't (and can't) vet all the people and ideas; you'll eventually end up with "people of poor moral character" in your system.

And there's no excuse for it. I wonder how it will be dealt with. I bet everyone involved was anti-PIPA.

I thought we'd already concluded that copyright infringement is not stealing. Neither is linking. Fair use is fine. And that ideas can't be stolen.

So, is Curebit wrong because 37Signals is one of us?

I'm not suggesting what Curebit did is right. But I doubt any HN user of any length of time can ignore the similarities with other copyright cases where the community here is opposed to the "37Signals" side.

I'll have to remember this thread next time someone suggest that copyright infringement is okay because copyright infringers have been shown to buy more copyrighted material, or that it helps advertise, or some other argument.

Agreed, it also seems a massive over reaction to what is, after all, a very small startup committing a victimless crime. Naming and shaming should be enough without dragging them through the streets of the web for a public stoning.

They are (a) copying other people's work, (b) passing it off as their own, (c) doing so for profit, and (d) unable to see why this is wrong.

This isn't a gray area at all.

An honest question (and thank you for not using the term stealing!=)), but you listed 4 reasons. Just curious about where it crosses the line for you. If someone does A, is it still a grey area? Is it because of B? C? D?

Personally, I see it as A. B, C, and D merely exasperate the situation, but without A, B, C, and D aren't an issue.

Of course, the follow up is if it's because of B, C, and D that it isn't in a grey area?

They're not in increasing badness.

I don't think copying other people's work (a) is particularly wrong, unless you do so for profit (c). Otherwise it falls under the banner of "fair use".

Taking credit for other people's work (b), even in a not-for-profit context is something I consider wrong. In combination with (c) only more-so.

I think (d) is also a real issue, because it signals a certain sense of oblivious righteousness. It's an attitude that, regardless of the specifics of the situation, I consider really harmful. When people criticize one's actions -- whatever the reason may be -- you got to take a step back and reflect for a moment. Try to understand the other point of view. Failing to do so is, I think, a moral failure.

Thanks for the answer. I didn't mean to imply they had increasing badness, it just happened to work out that way.

I find it interesting that copying others people's work is okay with you as long as you credit them and don't do so for profit. I'm guessing it's mainly a "You know it when you see it"-porn kind of thing.

I agree with your point on D, especially as it relates to this. I think the community would be somewhat more forgiving if they'd just come right out and said "We fked up!" 37Signals did this a couple weeks ago with the cat.jpg incident.

> I didn't mean to imply they had increasing badness, it just happened to work out that way.

Ahh, ok. My bad.

My moral intuition with regard to copyright probably isn't entirely consistent. For instance, if a poor kid wants to learn but the parents can't afford books, is it OK for him to pirate those books (either with a photocopier or digitally)? I think it is okay, and it's definitely in the best interest of society. After that it's just a slippery slope towards a very free interpretation of "fair use", regarding music, art and so on.

As for D, society punishes people harshly mostly for being unstrategic. After all, they should just do a "We fked up!" post regardless of their beliefs, because it's obviously the strategic thing to do. They didn't do that right away, so they are effectively punished for their poor strategy, not for their moral judgement. Even a transparently disingenuous apology is (erroneously) judged (by the public) as an apology of sorts, even though it only means that the company in question did a cost-benefit analysis.

Effectively we're browbeating companies into giving the sort of apology we want to see, regardless of what they believe they did was wrong. That's sort of messed up, when you think about it.

> Effectively we're browbeating companies into giving the sort of apology we want to see, regardless of what they believe they did was wrong. That's sort of messed up, when you think about it.

That's a real good point. I hadn't considered that. We all say "actions speak louder than words," and the ugly truth is, apologies based on a public outting probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.

It's only vague inasfar as the words themselves are vague.

"COPYING" is abused. RIAA and other organizations have really tried to grossly expand the definition and that has tainted the discussion. For the next paragraph, "COPYING" means literally using the same assets (or a digital replication).

The line is drawn at "literally copying assets". Putting up your own assets that are inspired by another site isn't copying. Putting up another company's assets (or downloading and self-hosting other company assets) crosses the line.

I don't think you can define "copying" clearly for this purpose. Is it still copying if a person is wedged in the replication loop? I think you're going to try to divide my hypothetical into two scenarios, and it's not going to be clear cut what the distinction is.

You don't think hotlinking images and CSS is stealing bandwidth?

Technically, no. They are linking to an image on another server. It's akin to me linking to someones article. In one case, the visitors browser automatically fetches the image. In the other, the visitors browser fetches it at the users request.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not defending the action. But no, it's not stealing. Defining it as such is just as wrong as defining copyright infringement as stealing.

I'm sure all those 300-byte images have the 37signals servers at melting point.

I don't think this is the horse you want to ride.

I'll take that pony ride.

Someone who's happy to steal from someone else just because that person is richer than them and they're only stealing little things still, IMO, lacks morally. With proviso's which aren't I don't think pertinent to this current situation (eg immediate life-preservation).

Your argument is basically the shoplifter's manifesto - the store is rich, I only took some of their stuff, it's barely a drop compared to their profits, etc..

No, my argument is that of all the things wrong with this situation, stealing 300-byte bandwidth is so far down the list it's unimportant. That's what I meant by this is not the horse - there are far better horses to ride in this race.

It's nice of you to tell me what my argument is, but you have it utterly wrong.

>nice of you to tell me what my argument is

How you've reiterated it here appears to match my interpretation of what you said. So perhaps you can say what your argument actually is - FWIW my comment had several upvotes so it doesn't appear to be just me being a dullard.

>stealing 300-byte bandwidth is so far down the list it's unimportant

So you're saying this is nothing like the argument 'stealing a snickers from Walmart is such a small amount, it's not important'?

So you're saying this is nothing like the argument 'stealing a snickers from Walmart is such a small amount, it's not important'?

Will you stop trying to paint me as only talking about one issue? That's where you get my argument utterly wrong.

It's akin to saying "Mao Zedong's China was bad because the dog-catchers weren't licensed properly".

Like it or not, the legal system regularly drops small, less important charges when bigger ones are present. The murderer who exceeding the speed limit trying to escape from police doesn't get a speeding ticket. That doesn't mean that speeding tickets themselves are unimportant or never get pursued.

We're discussing this issue which you raised. It's fallacious to consider that one is only concerned with a single facet of a situation because that is all that is being addressed. Others have addressed the other points in the thread.

So, going back to my initial comment (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3523870) you're saying that it's wrong of me to characterize your argument this way because I've failed to mention that it's a corrupt tycoon that is shoplifting. Because they've also committed greater crimes we have to ignore the shoplifting?

Or to recapitulate you'd nab a shoplifter but only if they'd not done something worse as well?

Got to say I still don't follow the reasoning and still consider image hotlinking to be bad; and that, for a company, it indicates some sort of corruption.

"this issue which you raised"!? What the hell are you on? eropple was the one that raised bandwidth stealing, not me.

Or to recapitulate you'd nab a shoplifter but only if they'd not done something worse as well?

The legal system already does this - if someone sets fire to the shop but takes a Snickers on the way out, no-one really cares about the shoplifting. The legal system doesn't prosecute it, and the media doesn't report "the arsonist and shoplifter was in court today". People reading glossy magazines don't gossip "oo, that arsonist - did you know he also took a candy bar? the nerve!".

Anyway, absolutely nowhere have I said that hotlinking is okay. If that's what you think I've said, then you have grossly misunderstood me.

You keep saying that I've misunderstood that you didn't say anything that your words are implying but still failing to say what you did mean. This doesn't exactly help get your point across.

"I'm sure all those 300-byte images have the 37signals servers at melting point."

If that's not about stealing bandwidth then what is it? It's clearly sarcastic, by ordinary reading the point of the sarcasm is to downplay the idea that taking a small image from 37signals server is wrong; the justification in the sentence is that it won't cause a large harm to the 37signals server.

So, go on, what are you saying here?

FWIW arresting people for minor offences has long been a technique of law enforcement personnel when gathering evidence on more major crimes.

The "arsonist" that also stole a candy bar gives you an insight in to the psychology. They're not a person, for example, only driven by an overbearing desire to see things burn; they're also a thief besides. This moves to suggest the character of the person is to disregard other's property. You can make a claim of temporary insanity (or in the current case that there is no copyright infringement in using 37signals site as inspiration) but then you also have to address the question of the theft (or in this case the hotlinking).

I said:

"Your argument is basically the shoplifter's manifesto - the store is rich, I only took some of their stuff, it's barely a drop compared to their profits, etc.."

Which is almost exactly what you've said here. The arson [copyright infringement] is almost entirely orthogonal to the theft [hotlinking]. The actions have very little co-dependency except in the moral decrepitude of the perpetrator.

No, he's saying that when a guy walks out of Walmart with a pallet full of flatscreen TVs, nobody cares about the snickers bar he also grabbed on the way out, and talking about the snickers bar is a waste of time.

It's only gray from your system. There are other systems that people live (and think) in, regardless of what the law (and "common sense") says.

If you consider that (a) the act of ctrl-c/ctrl-v is fine for any material, (b) hosting content on your domain does not imply that you pass off the inspiration of the work as your own, (c) everybody already copies under the radar for profit to some extent, then (d) becomes an issue of perspective, like I said.

If you accept that copyright law may be morally or economically inferior to other systems, this should be gray to you.

If you accept that you want to copy your peers' works for your own profit, and you can accept that your peers have the same rights to your productions, then you are a Kopimi, and there's nothing wrong with that either from what I can tell, (except that society will burn you down in today's day & age. Think of it as a modern day witch hunt.)

I meant that it isn't a gray area, that it isn't a moral dilemma for me, but something that is overwhelmingly slanted one way. I don't consider it a moral absolute, and it's easy to imagine a society superior to ours where copying is considered OK.

I think this is completely different from the Kopimi philosophy, which argues that the rights of others to enjoy existing work (e.g. music, movies, art) outweigh the right of the IP holder to deny others the right to enjoy the work in question.

As for (b) I think that when you put something on your site you're implicitly claiming the work is your own, and it's your responsibility to give credit where due. They didn't.

Your argument against (c) - everybody else does it -, I find completely unpersuasive.

I see what I said as corollary, rather than representing Kopimi.

What you say about (b) only follows from current social norms, which can change and I believe will change over time. I understand what you mean about attribution, but it is also difficult to give attribution to certain copyrighted works in today's climate without admitting "guilt".

As per (c), have you ever run Firebug against Facebook's site to see how they do things? If you haven't, you're missing out. :)

Yes. It was wrong. No one is defending that. Breaking a traffic signal is wrong and killing someone is wrong. The point I think the op is making is that, people have been way too rude for the level of the mistake they have done. They are already insulted and name called. Why take it further in the blogs, newspapers and so on.

Well they not only ripped off someone else's work, they picked the work of one of the most fiery, well-known personalities in the web business world (DHH). When you mess with the bull, you get the horns.

I don't know if there's more context to the quotes in the article, but DHH comes off as an annoying dick.

My startup uses CSS we bought off of themeforest.net.[1] Using it certainly doesn't require more design skill than copying 37signals. Is it original? I really don't give a damn, and neither do my customers.

[1] ...and subsequently had to reimplement nearly from scratch, because people with great design sense seem to be incapable of creating solid, structured CSS. Thank zeus for Twitter Bootstrap.[2]

[2] Even less original than "stealing" someone else's design.

> we bought

There's the difference. See: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3523402

Let's be rational.

Lets say that it is instantaneous and free to copy 37Signal's design, whereas to recreate it from scratch it costs the labor of a designer X units of dollar-time.

For the sake of simplicity lets say that Curebit and 37Signals are competing for customers in a zero sum game.

True, by copying 37Signals, Curebit has taken away some unknown X dollar-time worth of customers away from 37Signals during that 1 hour.

However, even though the customer space of 37Signal's and Curebit's enterprise may be zero-sum, the dollar-time measure of work is non-negative (and not zero-sum). It would make more sense for the industry as a whole to allow the copying of design, because overall it saves on design work time.

What Curebit did appears to be wrong because it appears as though they are outright cheating. However, if you understand that designers gain their chops by reverse-engineering the productions of others, and that this happens routinely in the real world, perhaps it's time to accept copying as a legitimate part of the equation.

In this case, 37Signals was given free rein to track Curebit's customers. Sounds like a good deal to me.

To understand the reasons why many people who will argue strongly for fair use, etc., still find this wrong, you have to look two steps ahead.

Let's say 37 signals has done the extensive work to create a page design that really converts. And we live in the world where anyone else who wants to lift their carefully-researched design can do so in 10 minutes, and reap the same benefits.

Unfortunately, that would put 37 signals at a serious disadvantage -- assuming that customers don't know who first created something really good, the actual creator always loses. All of the copycats get the same benefit with a cost of 10 minutes vs. 10 days.

So the only way 37 signals can benefit from their work is to find a way to make it more work to copy than to recreate.

To do that, they'd need, what -- some kind of heavily-obfuscated Flash? I'm sure if the need were there, we'd find a way to really lock down web UIs.

> In this case, 37Signals was given free rein to track Curebit's customers. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Unrelated to my points above, but never mind tracking... a hotlinked image is the perfect invitation to tweak your own layout, then change the original image files. Sadly, it looks like 37 signals missed their opportunity to paper over Curebit's page with animated penises.

Yes, they are at a disadvantage, but they would still be at a local and global advantage. Local because they are first to put the innovation out, and they will naturally gain attention. Global because this system lifts everybody up overall. There is this midway hump that people can't seem to see over, but if what I say is true, the barrier will be broken and stay broken one day.

Plenty of good innovators (and artists) innovate for the joy of innovating, and this "protection" gets in their way. DRM and obfuscation hurts everyone involved.

This is days old now, but I don't cycle back often, unfortunately....

This doesn't add up, though. They're only at a very local advantage, because if their competitors have the same feature the next day, only very few folks will realize who had it first.

And globally, everyone gets the same advantage (everyone is lifted up), but the creators who put in X months of work have paid X months for that advantage, and everyone else paid nothing. So, add that up and you get red, for the creators only. Everyone else can thus charge pennies for whatever service, while the creators need to recoup their costs, so they can't... so they go out of business.

Or they change their strategy.

It gets pretty clear that to "win" in this game, you need to either be the #2 site with any new feature (be ready to snap it up as soon as the competition brings it out), or find some contorted way you can innovate without anyone else nicking it.

What Curebit did was more like, taking the new Mission Impossible movie by Paramount Pictures, renaming it and changing the credits. Then releasing it as their original production.

Imo it's also because it's no style; copying source code, linking to resources from another site, copying logo's,.. It's like going to an English gentlemen's tea party clothed like a beggar & shitting all over the place. And then replying on twitter "why do you care i shitted all over the place? what's the big deal?"

Who concluded that copyright infringement is not stealing?

Opposition to SOPA etc does not necessarily mean people don't believe in copyright. There is a very broad range of views on that particular question.

> Who concluded that copyright infringement is not stealing?

You've got that question backwards. Whose concluded that copyright infringement is stealing?

> Opposition to SOPA etc does not necessarily mean people don't believe in copyright.

That has absolutely nothing to do with what I said. You clearly don't understand what I'm saying. I oppose SOPA and absolutely support copyright. And that doesn't contradict anything I've said.

> There is a very broad range of views on that particular question.

Broad range? I figure there are 2 views: those that want frame copyright infringement as stealing, and those that understand the difference.

Whose (sic) concluded that copyright infringement is stealing

That's the facts under the law as it stands at the moment.

I figure there are 2 views

There is a broard range of opinions ranging from a major criminal offence, to a minor offence to a non-criminal civil offence to not wrong at all to a duty of all people.

There's copyright infringement for personal reasons (i.e. I really wanted to watch that movie) and there's commercial plagiarism. It's a completely false equivalency.

From a copyright-law perspective, it's not a slam-dunk that Curebit infringed any protectable aspect of the 37Signals design, as opposed to "stock" elements.[1] West Side Story has a lot in common with Romeo and Juliet, but the latter itself has a lot in common with a long line of still-earlier romantic tragedies.[2]

Some of the reactions here are fascinating. As a group, HNers prize the freedom to copy from others and the ethic of helping others --- but for some, it seems to be "I get to copy from others, but no one else is allowed to copy from me."

EDIT 1: That said, from a purely-practical perspective it's usually better and cheaper to steer clear of controversy (depending on how you think the PR scales will tip). Curebit might have been better off had it not copied what it did, not least because this controversy is sucking up management time that could probably be put to better use.

EDIT 2: Plus, stealing someone else's bandwidth by linking directly to their copies of images, etc., without permission does cross the line, if that's what Curebit did.

EDIT 3: Even copying HTML and CSS might not constitute copyright infringement if there are only a limited number of ways to express the same idea(s). This is even more the case if there's an optimal way to code a given set of ideas.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sc%C3%A8nes_%C3%A0_faire

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet

I am a software developer, I believe strongly in copyright.

I also believe strongly that people should not have their lives ruined, and citizens should not have their freedoms curtailed to protect it on a large scale.

I do believe that businesses who take a relaxed attitude to using copyrighted material that belongs to someone else are displaying a lack of ethics that is worrying and deserve to be taken down pretty hard.

There is a world of difference between some random person downloading a movie for viewing, copying a website for their personal blog etc and a company doing it.

These guys have made a really unfortunate decision here. To be fair, based on their response so far I expect its because they dont have a clue what copyright even means, so its about ignorance rather than malice, and it will soon be rectified.

Just because something's legal doesn't make it appropriate or professional behavior.

It's legal to be an a-hole, but I usually try not to be one.

It's also often a very successful strategy for companies to copy the design of competitors, and differentiate on other things. Zynga copying competitors' games is a great example.

In this case, Curebit was only copying the design of a landing page, so it was probably not worth pissing off DHH even if that landing page was legally usable and worked better. Although it really seems that DHH was more pissed off by Allan's tweets and posts about it than by the design itself.

West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet share the same _idea_, not the same image file.

And they don't copy paste dialogues. Paramount to using images from highrise.com (not even bothered to download and host them).

Is this really such a big deal? We are all only where we are today based on building on the improvements of others.

This isn't exactly like Zynga copying other small studios games, it's just a bit of design rip off, which incidentally, I'm not a designer, but if I see something that I think looks good on another site, I'm happy to copy the css styles for it. I've often thought if I'm just kidding myself, and what I'm doing should be considered totally wrong, but ultimately, it's just some styles. I've still coded everything myself.

While linking directly to assets you are using for your site, is clearly ridicuslously stupid, I don't think we should call the lynch mob out on them just yet. (Thoughts?)

For me personally I found his attitude towards the entire thing the real problem. He asked if crediting the original creators was enough, he then hid behind all manner of silly startup buzzwords ("a/b testing", "ghetto test", "lean startup") and didn't seem to understand it was wrong. His tweets after the fact were worrying too, especially when others uncovered that they had other products that took designs from elsewhere.

Shit happens and hopefully this doesn't damage curebits business long term, but Allan really needs to understand what he did wrong, he seems to think the problem was he didn't credit and it's perfectly okay to take someone elses work, pass it off as your own and then hide behind silly phrases. No matter what your business is or how old you are stealing is wrong.

Allan did have some silly responses. Either he was panicking and couldn't think clearly (he does have a lot on the line) or he genuinely doesn't understand what the problem is. On the other hand, I think David is overreacting and trying to get as much attention as possible -- seems a bit childish.

If I was in David's shoes, I'd be shocked to see how much they directly copied and simply ask them to take it down, and possibly notify their investors. I'd also be proud that they used my design.

Allan has founded four companies. This isn't his first ball game and I'm sure he knows better.

>"Shit happens and hopefully this doesn't damage curebits business long term"

Why this? Having their business affected is precisely what needs to happen to demonstrate that doing this is unacceptable.

"I'm happy to copy the css styles for it." vs " I've still coded everything myself."

No, you haven't.

Seeing a website look that you like and emulating it by creating a blackbox version of it is fine, seeing a website look that you like and grabbing the css styling for it is breaching copyright. Its also ridiculously lazy in a bad way, getting someone else's css to work with your html is going to be way more painful than simply writing your own. Unless you also copy the html for it?

Seriously. As a professional you do not get to take other people's work without their permission. As a civilian you can do what you like, but if you want people to think of you as a professional, you need to act professionally.

What if you are web browsing and you see a background colour of a site that looks really good, so you decide to get it from the source and use it from your website?

"I'm happy to copy the colour code for it." vs " I've still coded everything myself."

yep, what if you do? copying a color code is certainly not speaking to copyright concerns.

There are a couple of points to consider though. the first and most obvious is that generally a background color by itself will not work well with the other colors on your site - choosing items in isolation like that is generally a fantastic way to end up with coder art (believe me, I know something about how to produce coder art).

The thing that good designers do, and do well, is make all the elements work together, generally if you simply take a single element (background color, font sizes, etc) from someone else's site and dump it on your own site without considering the overall effect, you are doing a stupid thing.

I don't think anyone here is worried about the sharing of ideas - uses of color, general placement of elements and so forth, taking those things and merging them with your own needs and messages is how new art is made. The problem with copyright usually comes when someone simply does wholesale copying without the process of considering each element in terms of its effect, the message you want to get across and so forth.

IMO A 'good faith' copying of highrise done competently would produce something new, something where the source of inspiration can be clear, but where there is sufficient change and obvious consideration of the factors that made your own product unique that there is no question of direct copying.

The damage done by straight copying is always twofold, the first is the obvious - the breach of copyright, the second is also clear but many people miss it - a design produced that speaks to a specific product, specific website goals and specific messages is very unlikely to have the same positive effect if transplanted wholesale.

That is why wholesale copying is not just a sign of a lack of ethics, it is also a clear indication of a total lack of competence. The person doing the copying entirely lacks knowledge of the process that is required to produce good work, and has no idea why the site they admire so much works so well. Even putting copyright and ethical concerns aside, I would have no interest in working with someone who lacks the competence to understand why wholesale copying is usually a stupid idea. They will not produce good work targeted at my needs, they will produce good work targeted at something entirely unrelated.

I find it a problem when people's response is basically "I'm sorry I got caught", and not "I am legitimately sorry".

The part of the apology is realizing that a mistake was made in the first place. Failure to do that does not make you look good.

I don't know about a lynch mob but for me it clearly reflects poor judgement, lack of integrity, and just plain laziness.

Improvements and Rip-offs are two different things.

> it's just a bit of design rip off

I'm surprised that some people don't even understand what is being discussed here. Hint: it's not the hot-linking, it's not the borrowing of html, css or anything else. It's the brazen theft of someone else's work that @allangrant has engaged in and his apparent inability to see why this is an incorrect attitude. Not being a designer is not an excuse for being an apologist, either.

This is clearly an egregious case of design theft, particularly considering the fact that they're actually linking to assets off the Highrise site. But at the risk of opening myself up to an absolute shit hurricane, I'm curious where my site would fall on the Highrise design theft scale: http://www.powerplayforsalesforce.com.

Personally I think it's fine, but it's also obvious that I read 37signals' post a while back re: their a/b testing and thought to myself: Hey, that's a great idea! Instead of doing a long form like everyone else, let's blow up a picture of a guy (me) on the left, put a video in the middle, and put some bullet points to the right with a signup button on bottom. Short and to the point, and incidentally, a technique that's been in use by print advertising since the beginning of print advertising.

So where exactly is the line? (and I'm asking because I'm truly curious if I've crossed it) 3 bullet points about your product is nothing new. The smiling guy you can relate to with a testimonial isn't new. Some screenshots or a product video above the fold isn't new. But I certainly wouldn't give myself a ton of credit for originality in landing page design. I guess I could put the guy on the right and bullet points to the left. I could move the signup bottom. I could have more content in my footer. How do you take the general concept and produce something that doesn't look like something of a rip off?

Personally, I have a lot of respect for what 37Signals has achieved over the years. So while I certainly want to learn from their mistakes and successes, I certainly don't want to be accused of being a scumbag design thief. Any thoughts?

a technique that's been in use by print advertising since the beginning of print advertising

Making a web page look like a print ad is not a concept that I think 37signals would make any claim of ownership on, even if they were the first to do it (which I doubt, but don't know). I do know that people have been putting random stock photos of reasonable attractive people on web pages for a long time, for no apparent reason other than it must make the page seem more "friendly" to the average user.

By the way have your shirt pressed for your next photo. Just a suggestion.

I think the big difference, and what I think works well, is most sites I've seen do the stock photo thing as an accent (microphone girls anyone?) and it rarely works well imo. What I liked about 37 signals version is putting someone approachable and friendly--someone from their target market in particular--front and center and blown up. Again, often used in print, but first I'd seen it done well on web.

And that's good, sounds like no points for originality, photoshop doctoring, or ironing shirts, but at least I'm not a total scumbag design thief. I can sleep at night :-)

Looks like you photoshopped your face onto someone else's body.

You're half right. Although this will make me sound like an absolute narcissist, I needed a haircut when I took the pic, so I photoshopped my twitter pic onto my own body rather than get a haircut and retake a bunch of pictures.

The left side of your chin's shading is too drastically different from your neck, which messes with the perception of a light source, causing

I saw this play out yesterday in the comments and kept thiking "why won't someone stop him from posting?!" It was getting bigger and bigger the more he opened his mouth.

I learned an important lesson a few years ago: sometimes you can't make something better, and trying to make it better only makes it worse.

Stop, regroup with others and get a proper plan together.

I fully agree. Sometimes saying nothing is better. I don't mean forever, but think about it, sleep on it, but don't just 'react'.

Yes, but it's also good to respond to comments, to a certain extent. I like when founders come on HN and answer questions, solve problems and speak frankly. But there's a point when you're having a PR nightmare that you need to stop trying to fix things yourself.

My suggestion would be to acknowledge the issue, let people know you will address it shortly but you need time to talk with your partners so you could get a proper response together.

Perhaps some version of "we're going to get to the bottom of this." Sure, it could be deemed a short term cop-out but it's better than sticking your foot in your over and over.

I'm curious how public relations experts recommend people handle a situation like this.

One thing I see coming up over and over in these comments is that people get upset that this is called "stealing". The logic goes that stealing deprives the original owner, and since 37signals hasn't been deprived of the code and images that were copied (the hosting is a separate issue), this doesn't constitute theft.

While that may be a good argument that file-sharing is not "stealing" (though may still be unethical), I'm not sure it's an accurate assessment in the arena of design.

Part of the purpose of design is branding and establishing a unique visual identity in the marketplace. By copying these designs, curebit hasn't deprived 37signals of the actual code and images, but they have deprived them of some degree of unique visual identity. And to that extent, isn't this stealing?

But Javascript that has been hand-coded to offer uniqueness in identity and function, is largely considered fair game. Front-end specialists use view-source as a learning technique.

I think many of these arguments lean in the direction of the interests of the person making the statement. For example, I have been impacted by file-sharing sites so I feel nothing but satisfaction when they're taken down. I'd imagine the forums where movie creatives spend their time are generally filled with high-conviction arguments about 'downloading=stealing'. The startup industry hit the roof when a few colour combinations and png's are taken, but feels nothing for old-media industries whose bedrock is being eroded.

There's a lot of 'grey' in there, no obvious answers. Personally I don't torrent, but I have friends that do. I'll view-source but make it hard to steal my own source. Unique visual identity? Same as anything else - better have a lawyer advise you before you upload it for the world to see, and enough firepower to protect it.

Wow, talk about lazy. I'm ok with taking the layout, changing the images and using the same basic styles. At least change some of the fonts. I mean, How many sans serif fonts are out there that would've worked? Thousands.

They lost me when they started copying the HTML VERBATIM. Apparently they don't have capable developers either. The layout in question is not that complicated, and I'm struck on why they decided to do what they did. Even in A/B testing you could've mocked this thing up in a few hours and had it ready to go.


Its called Too Much Money with Angles with too little time chasing wanabes

I'm sorry, but am I the only one wondering about the ... tone of dhh's response? I mean, "fucking scumbags", is he like 14? He has every right to be upset, but the choice of words are in no way helpful. just saying..

I think anyone wondering about dhh's tone hasn't followed him on Twitter for long.

unfollowed him a long long time ago ( but i can still remember. )

DHH is well-known for being... crude, for lack of a nicer word. He's a guy who revels in the fact that he's arrogant.

Why do we tolerate this behavior from people in our 'community' (or anyone really)? It's comically childish and infuriating to see it get a pass because 'oh, that's just their thing'.

We have no leverage AND intolerance is the only thing that is socially acceptable to correct.

So this is "Swearing is F*cking Insane" debate on HN all over again? I think we talked about this before.

Exactly, This doesn't make him look very good. Beside the rude language, this isn't something grown-ups need to settle publicly via twitter. Very immature.

Agreed. Not that it matters much, but I just took Rework out of my wish list on Amazon. Reading his tweets in response to this has totally turned me off to 37Signals.

Are you offended by the tone? What would you call a person who steals your ideas (no value), steals your work ($$$), steals your bandwidth (~$), passes it all off as their own and then brags about raising money, a venture which was probably aided in no small from the theft? And when caught redhanded, further insults you by offering you credit for your work?

What would you call that person? I call those people scumbags.

The Pirate Bay

They didn't steal anything. I thought we've discussed this enough already, what with RIAA/MPAA's attempts to redefine copyright infringement as thievery. Hell, they didn't even steal bandwidth. Linking is not theft. It might be something else, but it's not stealing.

That, more than anything, pisses me off about this. That somehow the RIAA is wrong when it calls people infringing it's copyright thieves, but when it's one of our own getting hurt, we hang the culprits out to dry.

Call them scumbags. Get all indignant and tweet about it to your followers and whine to the 'interwebz.' But at least have the courtesy to be truthful and accurate. Otherwise, your just a scummy.

My apologies, I did not realize that they either received permission from or licensed design, code and image hosting from 37signals.

Or maybe I just choose to ignore your pathetic misdirection and call things as I see them, which couldn't be more obvious to the eye. Because that's what a retraction of the work and the (forced) composition of a public apology are all about.

> Or maybe I just choose to ignore your pathetic misdirection and call things as I see them,

I'm sorry. Maybe you could point to me where 37Signals no longer has what was stolen?

I also applaud your open commitment in support of redefining copyright infringement as thievery. Let me know how that works out for you.

Finally, you should avoid baseless insults. It makes you appear stupid and detracts from what you are attempting to say. Throwing around insults like you do hurts the quality of HN. Maybe that's what you want, but I'd prefer to keep things accurate and intelligent.

> Maybe you could point to me where 37Signals no longer has what was stolen?

I'm in full agreement that copyright infringement is not theft.

However, I think this part of the argument is weaker. Things can have value through scarcity, and even more so through uniqueness. To copy something, in such cases, can lead to a reduction in value of the original. If what you had was "the only <whatever> in the world" someone copying it takes that away from you without ever taking the item away.

Whether that's true in this specific case, is a somewhat different argument, of course.

Semantics over whether copying their code and images constitutes "theft" or "stealing", it's pretty obvious that using images hosted from their server is a type of theft of resources. Granted, the amount of resources in this case is likely a small fraction of a cent, but still.

Ok, I'm the stupid one. Please point out where I insulted you do I can give you credit and retract my claims.

> ignore your pathetic misdirection

You say that. It's fairly rude. You can disagree with me, but trying to belittle my argument with insults is rude. I don't think my original comment went over the line at any point to warrant such a reaction. Be honest, your comment from the first word, was fairly facetious.

Disagree with me, but do so on the merits of intelligence, not insults.

Unfortunately, according to the Curebit apology blog, they do in fact admit to stealing, or as they word it: ripping off. Imagine that.

Case closed. No need for lawyering, they know what they did and they know it's wrong.

It doesn't making it stealing. Poor word choice is poor word choice.

> No need for lawyering.

No, there is every need to be accurate. Maybe you aren't aware of how long the fight has been going on, but the use of the term pirate and stealing isn't a new thing. Allowing it's use frames the argument in a light that isn't accurate.

Words have power.

Don't agree with me? A criminal like you would.

This is an honest question, I'd be curious to hear how you might differentiate this from music and movie sharing? I hope that people won't just down-vote me without responding. I am truly curious because I myself have mixed feelings about all of these issues as both a content creator as well as a consumer. It's hard for me to understand why certain types of art must be free for all, but others are defended vigorously.

I've seen this happen several times before where someone uses photos, design or article text without permission, gets busted and winds up on the tech forums. The tech community generally tends to get pretty noisy about how despicable they find it.

It strikes me as interesting because one of the piracy arguments is that it's not stealing because the original author didn't lose anything. In this case (well aside from the hot-linking bandwidth) the original authors didn't lose anything.

If all intellectual property should be free, shouldn't this be perfectly fine to use art and graphics and such as well? Why is it ok for 37signals to have any claim of ownership over these things when musicians who do so are criticized for not understanding.

Is the difference the way the material is being used? It because curbit is using this in a corporate setting? People who are in favor of file sharing, does that not apply to design and software? Does it only apply to individual, personal use? What about sites who host music and have banner ads, are they ok? What if I use a song in my YouTube video, is that the same thing? How about some photos for a YouTube slide show?

Thanks for any thoughts!

I am not sure if people here acknowledge stealing/pirating movies/music as an acceptable act. What we want is for the movies that we genuinely purchase (be it as a DVD or a direct download), to be more accessible and available on different platforms. Or we want services that make these resources free and yet make a profit to the creators (youtube/pandora). I believe that something I have already paid for should not be constrained to a device/platform and so will find ways to make it more shareable between devices/platform. I differ with the draconian laws used by the movie industry.

The thin line that separates the two things you are trying to compare is: In the case of movie/video sharing we are a customer (hopefully) of a service that is sold (music/movie) whereas in the case of copying a website, neither is the website selling their design nor is it in public domain for use.

I think it is ok to be inspired and create a "similar" design, but to plagiarize, is probably as pathtetic as it can get.

I'm definitely in agreement with you about DRM. It feels like punishment for those of us who actually bought the music or move.


I don't see a huge difference between this and music/movie piracy. I feel it's down to the financial/commercial nature of the infringement and also the scale. I think this is fairly consistent with the legal viewpoint, if the copyright owner was suing for damages what could they reasonably claim?

It's one thing for somebody to copy a DVD for a few friends or family members, worse if they put it on BitTorrent, and worse still if they start selling bootleg copies.

I don't think there would be such a big outcry over this if it was a personal website getting a few hundred hits a month, or even if it was a moderately successful non-commercial project. Curebit had already received funding from Y-combinator and I assume their team were working on it full time, so in my opinion that's rather different to somebody cutting a few corners on a weekend project.

There's a difference between downloading music (albeit illegally) and taking someone else's work and trying to pass it off as your own. When I download a Duran Duran album, I don't post it on my website and claim that I made the album and attempt to sell it as my own (as much as I wish I was Simon LeBon).

This isn't an issue of piracy -- it's an issue of plagiarism, which is quite different in my opinion.

How about we compare it to someone who put up a youtube video of themselves lip-syncing to Duran Duran? They're not necessarily claiming that the music is theirs, they're just using some random song they found to provide a background/prompt for their own performance.

Maybe its more fundamental? - People do it if they know they aren't going to be exposed (like downloading illegally) and they won't if there was a way to expose them (say via facebook/blog)? Just a theory.

I still believe downloading illegally is wrong, but thats my opinion.

I think that is a pretty good point, the matter of taking credit for the work.

How about using copyrighted music in your own YouTube video or something like that? If you give credit does that make a difference?

Or, if curebit had put a credit at the bottom "design based on 37signals" would that have made a difference?

Curebit shouldn't have used assets off the 37Signals site, but I don't think this is a huge deal. If you write an article talking about how to do a/b tests (like 37Signals did), and talk about how great your results were from adding people instead of text to the landing page, then you have to expect that some people will use that information to influence their design decisions.

The whole point of technical blogging is to help other people solve a problem the author has already solved. In this case, it was how to improve conversions on landing pages. If you put that content out there, don't be surprised when people use that content to help them solve a problem. You loose the right to whine and complain about someone using that information as soon as you blog about it. In return, you get more credibility (people treat you as a thought leader) and more page views.

A lot of people here are only referring to them ripping off 37signals' design. They ripped more than that.

http://yfrog.com/oejp7cp Curebit vs. Kinoma

Sharebooster's logo is stolen directly from LaunchBit: http://yfrog.com/odx67yoj

No one can defend the theft of a logo.

To be fair, perhaps both of those companies used purchased themes or artwork from something like themeforest as a starting point.

But this definitely looks bad, particularly in light of the 37signals dustup.

EDIT: Looks that way for the rocket ship at least: http://www.bigstockphoto.com/image-5418738/stock-vector-retr...

Hey -- yeah, I'm one of the co-founders of LaunchBit, and it's true that on a startup budget, we bought the image from iStockphoto.

You should be aware that the iStockPhoto (and BigStockPhoto) license specifically excludes using their content in logos.

At what point does inspiration become imitation? Clearly Curebit stepped over the line in this case, but it's undeniable that lots of startups draw design inspiration from other companies.

But at what point does this become unacceptable? For example, if Curebit merely used the same design, except hosting the assets on their own server, would that be okay? What if they just copied the layout but used their own styles, images, and fonts? Or if they just copied the button?

I'm sure that line is subjective, though one could argue linking to assets from someone else's servers is akin to theft (stealing bandwidth and money).

But I think the bigger story here is how Curebit handled their reaction to DHH. This could have all been avoided if Allan replied with a more humble stance.

Personally, I think DHH's initial reaction was on the strong side. If Allan had realized that, he wouldn't have tried to rationalize their actions. I suspect if he humbly apologized, then stayed quiet, he could have saved himself a lot of heartache.

And if was really troubled by DHH's reaction, he could have just emailed him privately. Getting into a pissing match in a public forum can sometimes backfire (even if you think that negative press can be good press).

When you are clearly in the wrong, a pissing match will never end well for you. Apologize sincerely, fix it, maybe offer some form of remediation, and let it blow over. You will never be able to make yourself look better if you try to make excuses or attack the grieved party.

agreed. sage advice.

At what point does this become unacceptable?

Look at what Zynga did with FarmVille. At first, it was exactly like FarmTown. Same appearance, same menu layout, same gameplay. They weren't actually serving assets from FarmTown's servers, but besides that, the design was exactly the same.

Was this illegal? Probably not - design like this generally can't be copyrighted.

Was this successful? Yes - this sort of strategy led Zynga to be worth billions of dollars.

Was this ethical? I think intelligent people will differ.

Either way, DHH certainly uses his audience to attack people who come too close to the design of 37signals. A similar thing happened when Google launched Huddle, and DHH complained it was too similar to Campfire. In the end, Google rebranded it as a PR move and nobody cared any more.

Whether it's ethical or not, it certainly seems like a tactical PR mistake for a startup to annoy DHH this much.

Not only did Curebit copy 37Signals design in this case, they also essentially copied the source code. If Zynga was somehow able to decompile another game's source code, change the assets, and then sell it as their own, it would be just as wrong and potentially illegal as what Curebit did.

If I was DHH I would have replaced the images with something else. It is always entertaining what you can do to someone's site if they are foolish enough to pull images off your server. Or they could have blocked the hotlinking of the image.

The images had explicit height/width set (and were small) so any damage from this would've been pretty limited.

True, but changing the little checks to little middle finger bullets would have been a much more elegant method of retaliation.

What if Curebit had an important demo/presentation that was botched as a result of this? I think the response should be tailored to provide them with a learning opportunity rather than to hurt their startup. A private naming/shaming like betageek suggested would probably do the trick.

Surely that is the risk they took when using content that they have no control over.

If the demo/presentation is that important, then it would be wise to remove that risk by using their own design and their own images.

I have similar thoughts. Some of the sites I've designed, look like the illegitimate love child of a collection of popular sites.

From a purely artistic standpoint, imitation is a large piece of the modern creation process, if only because of it's increased use in modernism/postmodernism. Everyone's influenced by someone or something, it's just the way things work.

In terms of what is acceptable, I tend to lean towards the notion that it's fine for someone to be inspired, or imitate as long as they've added their own artistic flare/soul to the piece and it's not just a forgery. As in they've only imitated a part of the piece, and not it's entirety. The issue with this whole process though is, art is subjective.

From David Mcclure

"have spoken to Curebit founder Allan Grant, he has taken down the pages with Highrise assets. he's also now drafting a public response. needless to say, he is re-thinking recent behavior.

although i'm sure DHH will not forget the transgression, but hope he may allow them opportunity to show they can learn from their mistakes & change."

I'm astounded how many people here are defending this... Leaving all other aspects aside, why should I trust a company that doesn't even have enough pride to spend 5 minutes whipping up their own fucking button images?

And that they have over a million dollars in funding just makes this even more sad...

Seems to be some logical inconsistencies in the startup community over what is and is not ok to copy. Usually, like anything, it comes back to whatever is self-serving to the person doing the talking. Investors speak out against patents on methods of doing business because their well-funded current or future portfolio companies could "build on" the ideas and use the cash lead to make a ton of money. Digital media distribution platforms want online content to be freely distributed off of or outside of the publishers' sites that paid for the content to be produced. This is all still pretty new and the rules of law and of decency are still being determined (and, in the case of the latter, are different for each individual). I think the more productive outcome of this line-crossing is this exact discussion to help shape those rules.

> Seems to be some logical inconsistencies in the startup community over what is and is not ok to copy.

Let's not pretend that we're dealing with a couple of noobs here, people.

If it weren't for the cumulative years of technology-related experience of everyone involved, a case could be made for excusing a blatant misstep with an admonishment, but for outright copy/paste theft? Allan Grant knew better and decided to steal anyway.

It's a bit like stealing another standup's jokes, or biting another rapper's lyrics. Not illegal, probably not immoral, but it will certainly make you look like a dick.

This happens more often than you think. Curebit just happened to get caught because the developer probably just copied and pasted the original HTML. And the fact that they copied from a ridiculously high profile site.

I remember when Leaky (YC S11) launched, its design was quite obviously taken from Square, but they put the notice: "All design credit goes to Square. We based our design on their home page until we can hire a designer of our own." http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/08/yc-backed-leaky-is-hipmunk-...

Legal, not ethical question: in US, is it a copyright infringement to hot-link an image that resides on another server and belongs to another site?

Let me explain better: the file at `http://example.com/background.jpeg` is a wonderful image and indeed it is used on `http://example.com/index.html`. I run another site, example.net. I have my own `http://example.net/index.html` page and I decide to add a `<img src="http://example.com/background.jpeg alt="A wonderful landscape">` to it. Is this an infringement?

If it is, why? Because it has been "contextualised" in another site? Please note that I did not copy the file, nor I distributed it, I just made a reference to it. You did use it, you did download it, your browser on your computer did all the composition.

If hot-linking an is an infringement, then also distributing a bittorrent file is, the mechanism is very similar, just with one more level of indirection. And it is common option (mine as well) that the distribution of a bittorrent file does not constitute any kind of infringement by itself.

Do you know how US copyright law deals with this?

I believe this is still contested in some respects, but there has already been one case which decide it was not copyright infringement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_10,_Inc._v._Amazon.com,....

"The court held that Google's framing and hyperlinking as part of an image search engine constituted a fair use of Perfect 10's images because the use was highly transformative"

I just did a quick search and couldn't find any court cases directly on point. Three possible arguments come to mind:

Alternative 1: By making your file available via the Web, you implicitly consented to having anyone download it who wants to do so, even via hot-linking, therefore there's no infringement.

Alternative 2: It's established custom that the implicit consent applies only to people who are downloading the whole page, not individual images --- therefore you didn't implicitly consent to hot-linking, therefore whoever downloads your content that way is an infringer, therefore the hot-linker is liable for contributory infringement or perhaps inducement of infringement.

Alternative 3: The person who created a page including hot-linked images, etc., has thereby created an unauthorized, and therefore infringing, derivative work [1]. (This assumes the hot-linked content is copyrightable.)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derivative_work#Definition

They even copied the pricing page verbatim, I have personally incorporated some 37signals design elements in my own websites but nothing to this extent. 37signals is a bit hypocritical in my opinion because they brag about their design practices and then whine when someone copies it, either you're an open company sharing your inner-workings with the world or you're not, they can't have it both ways.


Wow, they even copied a lot of the CSS ids/class names.

> 37signals is a bit hypocritical

There's a difference between leveraging the lessons learned/data gathered from a particular design and copying the design itself nearly verbatim. A big one.

OMG, that's really really stupid. (1) It's incredible stupid to just copy sites, (2) it's retarded to keep references to files hosted on other servers and (3) it's incredible retarded to tweet to dhh "chill dude", imo a huge lack of respect & social feeling.

YC has to look out, a few more of these stupid incidents and the YC brand will lose it's golden shine.. if you 're a 16 yo. kid you can make this "mistake", if your a YC company with $ 1.5 m in funding you can't imo.

Please do not conflate stealing with copying.

When something is stolen, the original owner no longer has posession of the stolen object. If the story were about money or physical property, "stealing" would be appropriate. It is not.

The word "copying" is quite adequate. In this case, direct copying is obviously poor behaviour. It betrays a lack of capability on the part of the copyer. This story would have had the same emotional impact, had it used the correct term.

Using the word "stealing" mires the story in the intricacies of digital copyright debate, which is not what this is about. It is about a startup not doing its own work, and thus demonstrating inability.

You are confusing everyday English with court pleadings. Here are some illustrative examples to show the difference.

1. You come home from work, and find that while you were gone someone came into your garage and stole your motorcycle.

It would be quite normal to exclaim "I've been robbed!". Yet you in fact have been burgled, not robbed. Nevertheless in common English usage people use "robbed" in a more expansive sense than it is use in law. If writing a police report, or an indictment, one must make the distinction, but not in regular conversation.

2. You are in a bar, in a tuxedo, obviously trying to drink yourself into oblivion. I ask you what is wrong. You tell me "my best friend stole my fiancé...on our wedding day!".

Technically, he did not steal her, as she is not property. He perhaps committed tortious interference with contract, or maybe alienation of affection. However, if you are not writing the pleadings for a lawsuit, it is in fact perfectly acceptable to say the bastard stole your fiancé.

3. You are the quarterback for your high school football team. The big game is coming up with your most hated rival high school. Your sister starts dating the quarterback of their time. While he is at your house visiting your system, he sneaks into your room, where you have your team's confidential playbook. He quickly uses his cell phone camera to take photos of each page.

This would generally be described as him stealing your plays, even though it is not legally stealing (and probably isn't even legally a crime).

The use of terms like stealing, theft, robbery, and so on to describe situations where they do not literally apply in the legal sense goes back a long way. E.g., from Shakespeare: "Who steals my purse, steals trash, but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed." Note that he is using both filching (a synonym for stealing) and robbery to describe damaging a reputation.

Copyright law's mechanism is to create a property interest in the right to make and distribute copies of a given work. Exercising someone else's property interests without there permission is acceptably called "theft" in ordinary English.

We’re willing to file this story under “lean startup wankery,” folks.

WTF? How does "lean startup" factor into this? That seems like an odd little digression there at the end of the article.

"No matter how many corners you cut and no matter how small your team is, you still have to spend time and money on development and design."

The implication is that a slightly less lean startup would have had more design resources and wouldn't have done something so stupid.

OK, I guess I can see why somebody might have written that, especially after reading the other HN thread (which I had skipped before) and seeing the stuff about ghetto testing, etc.

BUT... I still believe that "lean principles" and "doing stupid things" are orthogonal ideas. Nothing about embracing lean mandates (or even suggests) doing something this lame-brained. I think it was a bit of an unreasonable jab at lean startup advocates, by the author of this piece.

I don't see anything wrong with the following scenario:

- Hey, what should we do for this page? - What do you think of this 37signals page? - Yeah, that'd be great, throw up something like that, we'll polish it later.

However, that's not really the scenario here. There's a big difference between ripping off a style and layout (which is only declasse if people notice its a ripoff) and taking the actual code.

Yeah, it's really a tricky subject. What if:

a) The images weren't linked directly to 7signal. b) The html was * slightly* modified, but enough to show that it wasn't the same. 3) A little bit of tweaking here and there to make it * slightly* visually different.

By the way, I'm more playing the devil advocate as, even if this was actually legal, that'd still be an unrespectful move. It's hard something to draw a line between inspiration and stealing. I.e. When you are a beginner, you keep taking stuff here and there. As you become better, you start to use pattern that you've learned. As you become even better, you know that everything you do is based on something, somewhere and can even point to where you've learn it / been inspired by. Only when you really master a subject can you really create something.. and then, it's not a full creation.. it might be only small details.. which will then inspire others.

In a month, everyone will forget this, and Curebit will be well on its way to success. Disagree? Just look at the AirBnb stories (Craigslist spamming AND the user getting her house wrecked). Move on.. nothing to see here, just drama and egos.

Is the tweet war in the article real? Sounds way over the top for what is simply a landing page. I suppose they didn't make millions out of it. Kind of makes you sympathize with curebit (but a good opportunity to get to know them).

PS. the Rocket logo thing dhh is referring to is a stock image, i 've even used it myself! http://www.bigstockphoto.com/image-5418738/stock-vector-retr...

PS 2: Is dhh always so irritable?

PS 3: Reminds of the oatmeal vs funnyjunk situation, but much less civil http://theoatmeal.com/blog/funnyjunk2

What I get from this situation is that the people over at 37 Signals are unfortunately, large kids, from the tweets present in the article. I see companies copying other companies' work all the time and although that's morally wrong, I also don't see how some lines of html are going to be the a relevant part of a company. (and if they are... bad news)

What I don't see everyday is this kind of immature responses from the copied companies. Usually they just brush it off, because they know that in the end of the day, they are the better company. I say this without any other knowledge of the situation apart from the article though.

It's one thing to complain that another company built a design largely influenced by yours. And that's a legitimate complaint, although the most you can do is say "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"

This is wholesale ripping off (in particular, indicated by the direct linking to 37signals site assets). I would be pissed off too if I found that my bandwidth was being used to serve another company's site. Especially if the site was for a competitor. This is more than just design copying

I still don't see how any of this validates such an immature response from the copied company. Don't they have a PR guy or something to shut them up before they say things they might regret?

Why would they regret what they said? We should all be glad they called them out in such a public and unequivocal fashion. It means that scumbags might think twice next time before ripping off other people's work verbatim. Your response would have been more apropos if DHH's allegations had turned out premature, but the reality is that the extent of their plagiarism went much further than initially assumed.

Calling them out in no uncertain terms was a community service. Let's not quibble over vocabulary.

Well this is very subjective, and I can understand your views, but I just don't think it is professional to be impolite in this manner. Being right should not give you the right to be rude! I can see where you're coming from though.

> Don't they have a PR guy or something to shut them up before they say things they might regret?

Have you not heard of 37signals before this?

Why this this story on the front-page of HN? This provides very little quality content and discussion. This just seems to be propaganda. Yes, Curebit was in the wrong, admit it, move on. I'm sure there are more interesting things in the world of technology and startups than this. To quote PG: "I think HN's initial population of smart, mostly apolitical nerds has been diluted by the arrival of a lot of new users who are not as smart, and are thus more excited by shallow controversies."


honest question

The direct-linking is obviously a stupid move, but if the design was the same (minus the linking), would there be the same reaction?

As a non-designer, if I saw 37 Signals page and told my designer, I want it to be like that, but with our info, I would expect it to look like that. (I'd also expect that they'd mock it up themselves).

I can understand the uproar about the linking - that's a jerk move. But copying the overall design inspiration doesn't seem like a big deal to me though. Am I misunderstanding something?

My two cents: everyone is making this a big deal, and it isn't. 37signals is respected, and they do great work. For a startup trying to get funding, a few images and a layout goes a long way, especially if it's just a small team of devs with zero design experience, etc. Sure they shouldn't have copied, but sure I shouldn't have googled the answer to that coding problem I just spend 2 hours slamming my head against the desk over.

They are not a 'normal' startup. With 1.2M, they can hire designer from Asia which probably cheaper rate compare to the state. Looking at the founder respond on twitter, He clearly have no idea about design and how web works.

I don't think anyone has a final answer, but really _how close_ do designs have to be so as to lack integrity?

(assuming that they hadn't straight up lifted the CSS, images, button etc... which they did, which is clearly wrong.)

Ex: DHH says http://elance.com is inspiration, not theft. Ok.

Ex 2: A more difficult edge is http://coursekit.com I instantly recalled their design after seeing this scandal, although I'd initially taken note of it for its effectiveness. Their similarity to basecamp is on the front page only, and no assets stolen. (full disclosure: competitor, vaguely, for a hackathon-started education product I'm working on.)

Like, we can think up a MILLION edge cases. That's not the point. I'm really, really curious to hear what you guys think the difference IS.

and please, please, PLEASE don't respond to this with vitriol on other side. if you think there are problems happening here in the way we treat design, and how ppl react, just DON'T add to it in that way. reposted here b/c my q was downvote buried.

Epic fail on all parties. Y combinator encourages 10 finger theft for not doing it's part in due diligence. Maybe it's because Y-combinator supports SOPA and want's to lead by example. 37 signal clearly shows supports for SOPA by making a big F deal about this publicly. Than you have Curebit clearly taking investors for a ride. Clearly a Breach of contract!

Just because you don't want people stealing your work doesn't mean you support SOPA...

I guess this isn't an uncommon occurrence. I was checking our analytics this morning when I noticed we've been getting some strange traffic regarding "Laptop Repair In Cochin." Well I dug around and found a site that copied and pasted our codebase outright, HTML / JS & CSS - then tweaked a couple CSS variables.

I built the Wordpress theme from scratch about a year and a half ago and never released it for sale. This laptop repair site doesn't appear to be using Wordpress. Our site was featured on several design galleries at the time (it's in desperate need of an upgrade now, we just don't have the time) which, I'm sure, is how they found it to rip-off.

Check it out: Our Site: http://www.tinyfactory.co Their Site: http://www.laptoprepairkerala.com

I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - and a great reminder that it's time to upgrade our site ;)

It's fascinating to see the abundance of doublethink. Somehow, copyright violation is not theft when it's a song and, suddenly it appears to be worse than murder when it's code.

What Curebit did was reprehensible, amateurish and plain stupid. Most definitely not OK, but aren't we overreacting a bit?

Are they selling the copied code? Did they refuse to take it down? Did they fail to apologize?

BTW, in the same way we strongly suggest RIAA and MPAA affiliates they should look for business models that are viable in an age when copying and sharing music and movies is easy, shouldn't we encourage internet companies to seek business models compatible with the fact copying code is easy too? Let's forget for a second it's still wrong to use someone else's code without the right to do so, but how much does it hurt when someone copies some clever script from a public website? Last time I checked, 37 Signals had a very viable business model.

I think you are mixing two things. The outcry seems to be from one business copying another business. It would be like one songwriter copying the work of another songwriter. You are then comparing this to a regular person copyrighting the work of a songwriter/singer for their own consumption.

Although they are similar they are not the same thing. Just wanted to point that out. I won't go into an argument about which is wrong though since that is not the intention of my comment.

I just want people to stop using "theft" when "copyright violation" and "unauthorized usage of resources" (which is closer to theft than copyright infringement, BTW) are the right expressions to describe something. For the pure copying of substantial parts of code from one site to the other, it's not that much different from one musician sampling another one's work. Our HTML, JavaScript and CSS are all out there exposed and readable. I fully expect to find parts of it copied all over the web. It's a fact of life. I don't always like it, but I know better than wasting my time with it.

I don't think Curebit has any right to use 37 Signals' work, far from it, but I also think this outcry is a bit of an overreaction to mindboggingly idiotic deeds made even worse by a poorly conducted response.

Once, a friend of mine caught a competitor using their CSSs and images (directly off my friend's servers) on their own site. One morning, the competitor woke up to find their site completely disfigured in randomly clever ways for every IP that wasn't their office's. It was very enjoyable to observe.

If 37 Signals wanted to point out how it is not a costless transgression, they could send and invoice for the data transfer of the image at Amazon rates. More work than value.

I am just struck by the fact that they thought no one would notice. It just seems like one of those judgement things that could be a red flag for future direction.

Now I've heard of Curebit.

This issue boils down to something plain and simple.

If you come across something on the Web that visually makes since for your business, you open up your favorite editor and begin to code to match what you see. Source graphics that are similar in nature to reflect your objective and the design's objective.

For CSS and JS, examine what has already been accomplished and add your flavor and tweaks that make your brand what it is.

But if you copy CSS and HTML directly from another site and link to their images? For an up and coming funded startup? You are just greedy and lazy, or someone on the team got lazy.

Saw this blatant copy earlier today when the news first broke. You'd think that if they really wanted to copy something they'd do a little bit better of hiding it, but the copy is just bad.

Shame on Curebit.

This kind of thing happens often and I think it is ok as long it hurts no one and is temporary.

If you are testing 10 variations, getting "inspiration" is faster than come up with your own design and doesn't hurt 37Signals during the short length of the test.

Why did people get so angry so fast?

The only people who got really hurt in this story are Curebit, not 37 Signals.

I think dhh just threw a lot of traffic at Curebit. Would be good to find out how many more users Curebit got today.

N.B. It's "37signals", not "37 Signals". Impressively, the original VentureBeat headline actually gets this right.

I definitely feel that Curebit was in the wrong here, but the “fucking scumbags” comment cost DHH most of the respect I had for him. If he's willing to say something like that in public and on the record about someone he's never met, then I don't think I'd ever want to spend any time working with him.

Sorry curebit. you are on the HN homepage so I CSRF hunt: http://evanlong.github.com/security/web/csrf/curebit.html

You pass in authenticity tokens but don't even bother to check them on the backend.

This is wrong, certainly, but the easy fix is to either disable the assets or move them to a new URL. All that's left is a slap on the wrist from the community and a lesson learned for any startup considering design appropriation.

Two amazing things:

* Non-issue being treated like it's a world-wide catastrophe of some sort

* Total inability of a startup founder to say "Okay, we fucked up" and do a proper mea culpa before it becomes a PR clusterfuck

This incident strikes me as a glaring example of how broken web design is.

A simple page like that should be easier and faster to create from scratch using a WYSIWYG tool, and then publish to a web platform that support it.... than copying the source and then editing it in a text editor.

I know in the past such WYSIWYG tools were too rigid and thus we have a generation of designers that work in text.... but it just seems so archaic to me.

Like building images with text, rather than using photoshop.

I write code on the backend, that lives on servers, I don't write HTML for a living, so maybe I'm missing some necessary requirement that forces people to work in text editors.... but a straightforward page like that should be much faster to create by dragging a button element onto it, even a generic one and picking the image, and then putting text boxes in there and setting their style, etc, should take maybe 2 minutes if the assets are already created. Not being able to do so seems like such a time sync.

I remember once not too long ago tweaking a landing page, by going back and changing absolute pixel offsets 2-3 pixels at a time in text. I've done this with iOS code as well. Change the text, compile, run, how does it look? ok, need to go farther, back into the editor, bump it up 2 more pixels. etc.

FWIW, if anyone knows of visual tools from startups or open source that are trying to solve this problem, I'd be keen to hear about them. (I'm building a web platform, and rather than create my own design tool would rather support existing ones with my platform.)

The closest I'm aware of is Cappucino which supports using Apple's Interface Builder to layout UI for Webapps, and then export the IB files to the Cappucino format. Sproutcore had Greenhouse which looked even better, but seems to have been abandoned.

A better tool would mean easier AB testing, maybe even ABC testing... faster development and more iterative design. I see no reason that such a tool couldn't be made, or would have to necessarily impose restrictions that limited its functionality... and I think that boosting web designer productivity would be hugely valuable. On the other hand, I can't imagine why nobody has tackled this.

PS-- on the mac there's Flux, which sorta does this, but it doesn't integrate with a common web framework like rails, etc. I mean, you can, but it seems more suited to static pages. http://theescapers.com/flux/

As someone that writes HTML for a living I couldn't imagine using a WYSIWYG editor. A lot of markup, especially the new semantic HTML5 stuff is pretty subjective. Different organizations/teams have different markup patterns/views on this stuff. A WYSIWYG editor would have to be pretty customizable to fit in different organizations I think.

You can use Firebug/Web Inspector to adjust your layouts in real-time without needing to go back, modify code in your editor, save, and reload the page. There are some new tools (backfire) out that will even let Firebug/Web Inspector automatically update your CSS file so you don't have to go back after tweaking it in browser. Hopefully, browser vendors will one day bake this functionality in to their browsers.

The biggest time sink is not being able to drag and drop it's cross browser support. I can spit out a page from a design pretty quick, but getting it to look consistent across four or five different browsers takes forever.

  > As someone that writes HTML for a living I couldn't imagine using a WYSIWYG editor.
You can't imaging using any existing WYSIWYG editor. I would argue that using Firebug to make changes, see them in real time, and have the code auto-saved is just begging for a good WYSIWYG editor. Image if a WYSIWYG editor could create decent markup and css and provide perfect cross-browser support for all relatively modern browsers. You still couldn't imagine using it?

WYSIWYG has two major disadvantages:

1) It's hard to share components of WYSIWYG design across different projects.

2) It's hard to see what differences are between two versions in source control system. In order to do that you still need look at underlying code.

This still seems to focus too much on what WYSIWYG is now, as opposed to what it could be.

Problem 1 can be solved by designing your WYSIWYG editor UI around modular page components and templates, kind of like desktop software designers like QtCreator.

Problem 2 is a matter of designing a good visual diff tool for the DOM. You could combine the Tilt Firefox addon with other visual difference tools like A/B overlays and highlighting changed attributes (e.g. if the text color or border size is changed on a particular element between two versions being compared, set the text or border color or size of that element to some highly-contrasting or even animated value when the element is hovered in the diff view).

I've been slowly building a high fidelity WYSIWYG web design tool called Lean Designs that might interest you: http://www.leandesigns.com

It's hard to get folks to switch over to a less-than-complete web design tool (and building an unconstrained editor that generates quality HTML is a challenge), but I think it will get there eventually. I'd love to hear your feedback on the current product or advice on how to proceed long term.

Thank you for making this. It's one of those things which I have been tempted to make for a long time.

You might want to look into the editors of Optimizely and VWO. Even though they are A/B testing tools, I've used them just for thinking through quick design changes. From looking at the code they generate, it looked like they are just altering the CSS using jquery (often just assigning absolute positions to elements). So maybe you are already doing something better than that.

Have you looked into working on a small subset of web design? For example, make your editor work really well for Woothemes or sites built on Twitter Bootstrap. It will give you constraints to make at least one kind of popular design format really easy to edit and also possibly an easier way to get users because people recognise those brands.

I don't want to pivot your pivot, but positioning your product primarily for editing existing web pages, rather than creating news ones from scratch might be a good idea.

I'd like to give a big recommendation for this program. I've been watching LeanDesigns from the beginning, and I haven't used it much, not being a serious designer. But when I do need to build a site, I turn to LeanDesigns to make my life much easier.

I don't do everything in it, and the code that comes out isn't quite production ready, but it's damn close.

I signed up for your other site (jmockups) and I already had an account on file so I tried it out. It's pretty cool. Depending on how intuitive and slick this is I could see a big market for this.

A simple page like that should be easier and faster to create from scratch using a WYSIWYG tool...

I'd argue that landing pages are the most important and most complex pages to get right.

Perhaps, but definitely not from a technical perspective. They're often going to be the simplest. A good WYSIWYG tool would make iterating on the design much easier.

WYSIWYG is to web design what paint-by-number is to painting.

I've been waiting for a tool like this ever since I got into Web Design. I just couldn't understand why it didn't exist already - it's such a clearly valuable thing to have.

A lot of designers right now (like ronaldj in another comment) think that it's not practical or unnecessary. They think that the design will come out too rigid or it's too subjective.

But the thing is, as someone who just does a few pages once in a while, I don't care about this - I just want to be able to throw up a button on a page, choose it's place/size/color, and then be able to just say "add rounded corners" with a checkbox, instead of having to research on the web the various ways to do that, and finding out why certain solutions will work, but not in IE6, and why JS solutions will work and have their own problems, etc.

Such a tool will open up a whole new set of people into web design, which is a huge net plus.

By the way, matt1 from HN has built a tool that's working on doing this: www.leandesigns.com. It's not perfect yet, but it's already pretty great and saves me lots of time. Check it out.

I just want to be able to throw up a button on a page, choose it's place/size/color, and then be able to just say "add rounded corners" with a checkbox

We had all that in tools like Powerbuilder, back in the 1990s. AFAIK you still have that if you build your site using Flash (though I've never used Flash to build anything, so I don't know).

The world decided that browser-based apps were better, warts and all. In a way it's a shame that plugin vendors didn't take seriously the concepts of security, performance, and openness, the web could have ended up a very different place.

Likewise, more developers would probably be happy to use WYSIWYG layout tools if they did not generate hideously formatted, immensely verbose and complex markup that is nearly impossible to hand-tweak when needed, or if the tools themselves were not so complex that mastering them was just as much work as mastering HTML/CSS.

I would be interested in a tool that lets me visually build a basic page layout, something like a wireframe, and generates clean markup and CSS that I then easily enhance/fine tune by hand. I'll check out this Lean Designs tool that's been mentioned a few time here...

I think Adobe is working on something like this. Though Dreamweaver leaves much to be desired, I think what their working on is something completely different. Plus, the announcement that they're committed to HTML5 is more or less a hint of this. My guess is that it's something like Adobe Flash Builder, but instead of Flash, it outputs HTML5.

I've tried Adobe Edge and the biggest issue I found was with the amount of HTML output and the human readability/context of elements. There seemed to be a lot of wrapper elements used in succession and named long, generic names with numbers. In my brief trial it looked OK in the browser but due to the excessive HTML, it would be a huge burden to edit in anything other than Adobe Edge if you wanted to go back and change anything. In a text editor, I can create a page using only 20% of the elements Edge did and have the opportunity to name them something relevant (e.g. #author_info rather than #generic-1-3-15).

Are you talking about Adobe Edge? http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/edge/

Folks can design images in WYSIWYG tools like Photoshop because the output standards are much more stable and consistently implemented than HTML + CSS + JS. Every OS, browser, image viewer, etc. will render a JPG, GIF, or PNG almost exactly the same. But give them all the same HTML, CSS, and JS, and you might get very different results--especially if you are trying to make use of the coolest new features. Basically, hand-coding is the price we all pay for an industry that is innovating its technology so quickly.

I am not a Photoshop wiz, but isn't it a lot easier to change a pixel offset by 2 pixels in text than in photoshop?

How about we just not try to offset things in units of pixels on web pages?

I think "two pixels" is meant to describe the magnitude of the change rather than the precise measurement used. 2pt, .2em, 2px, 2mm...

b1ind 4 hours ago | link [dead]

If your only mission is to adjust one asset by 2 pixels, they're similar. If you want to see how those 2 pixels affect the design in its entirety, then photoshop is a much better option.

It looks like this account was auto-killed ~570 days ago, but it's not clear why, as there's no obvious massively downvoted comment or OT submission.

http://pllop.it/ (disclaimer: I'm an adviser) does some of what you are describing (with a lot more to come), but is positioned more as a product than as tool to be integrated.

No such thing as bad PR. Let's how well those guys will be doing in the future.

Anyone who says there's no such thing as bad PR has never worked in PR.

Yes, seemingly bad PR can cause unexpected good things, and bad PR can sometimes be turned into a good thing when handled skillfully (even then, not always). The idea that all PR is good PR is just naive.

If Allan Grant hadn't dug himself deeper into his hole, but instead come back with modesty, apologies and flattery to DHH at the very least (perhaps something outside the box as well, "Hey @DHH, to show we're sorry we'll donate $10k to a charity of your choice"?) then the bad PR would have got their name out there and their response might have prevented people from thinking badly of them, and even made people like them. But even then, there's never a guarantee that any response can turn bad PR to good.

When 37Signals wrote a blog post showing this design style outrageously improved conversions they must have expected that lots of folks would copycat.

Is DHH as pissed off at Elance for the blatant copy?


There's a difference between eLance's "inspiration" and actually referencing hosted images & code that CureBit did, but it's not a night and day difference.

Murky territory with us all copying eachother's moments of brilliance, but I don't think curebit deserves the full bodyslam, "scumbag" treatment.

Agreed. 37Signals generates numerous "lessons learned" posts under the pretense (implied or otherwise) of helping other people learn from their experience. If they don't see it that way, they should add the text "This design is ours and if you copy it or produce anything that looks like it, we'll publicly humiliate you f'ers and insult your investors as well!" to the beginning of each of their supposedly educational posts.

Or, they should spell out the degree to which something has to be changed before they'll be okay with it. Such as "you can put a big customer image on the page because, well, we didn't invent that. You can also put screenshots on the page because, well, we didn't invent that either. And same goes for customer quotes, checklists, and company logos. But we'll take you down if you put checklists with green checks to the right of the giant customer image, a quote to the right of the client's head, and two screenshots below the checklist, etc., etc."

That said, it is an unfortunate that Curebit linked to 37's assets instead of creating their own. And it is clearly a copy beyond just the linked assets. But I don't think it's an international incident on the order of Wikileaks or such. But that's how it's being treated for some reason.

Personally, I would have emailed Curebit privately and asked them to change it instead of trying to tarnish an individual's and company's reputation. That's called "being civil," but that's not how 37Signals works. Remember the time Google created something that resembled Campfire as a demonstration of what Google App Engine could do? It was a 3-pane window with a chat log on the left, the name of the room and a list of people in the room on the right, and a text entry area across the bottom. 37Signals treated it as if they were the first and only company to develop a chat client that worked that way. Here's a link to that incident: http://techcrunch.com/2008/04/08/google-to-close-huddlechat/

Here's the choice (dangling) quote: "we’re just disappointed that they stooped so low to basically copy it feature for feature, layout for layout…We thought that would be beneath Google, but maybe its time to reevaluate what they stand for."


Copying the design doesn't necessarily deserve "scumbag" treatment. Some brusque words, sure, but certainly not the escalation of DHH.

What Curebit did DEFINITELY qualifies as scumbag. There's some unknown tangible cost for 37signals (in the form of bandwidth, hosting assets for a competitor's site). There are small claims court cases considering similar situations nearly every day.

Ouch. I hadn't seen that one as part of the story. The whole looks worse that the preliminary part mentioned in this story OP.

<sarcasm> Naah, they were just A/B testing that one. I guess crediting it will make it fine. Unless the other party demands it to be taken down.</sarcasm>

I believe there is a clear legal difference here.

These things are over the line (and illegal):

  Using images without permission

  Using code without permission

  Referencing images and code from another site without permission

Gray area:

  Designing a site from scratch to roughly copy another site's design

Referencing images and code from another site without permission

This is not illegal, merely poor form and also a bad technical decision because the other site can then control you.

If this were illegal, you would have to get permission from other sites to use iframes. Things like stumbleupon's web version couldn't exist.

He's not pissed off at elance https://twitter.com/#!/dhh/status/163363094834319360

Also interesting: https://twitter.com/#!/dhh/status/163190258593304576

I think this cooled down a lot quicker if Grant had made a better reply. DHH didn't start out by calling them scumbags. (See his twitter feed)

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