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Apology to 37signals (curebit.com)
152 points by allangrant on Jan 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 207 comments

The whole debate is frankly embarrassing for both sides... Of course, admittedly more so for Curebit - but I can't be the only one who thinks that DHH's cocky attitude, publicly tweeting things like "Fucking scumbags", is just embarrassing when he is the main face of a friendly and professional company like 37Signals...?

Most companies handle this with a well architected wall of PR. DHH is managing to be direct while maintaining full integrity. I don't think it's embarrassing at all, it's quite an achievement, and it's hugely refreshing to see.

Curebit not only screwed up bad, but they kept digging deeper and deeper in their debate. I'm really glad they're being called for with directness and severity. You should be too.

Maintaining integrity usually doesn't consist of calling people "fucking scumbags". Notify people of their mistake, make it known that what they have done is not acceptable but crossing into personal insults and curses is not acceptable.

Not acceptable to who? If the course of action you've outlined (notify people of their mistakes etc..) is what you feel is right then doing so would be maintaining your integrity. If DHH feels like they're contemptible for doing what they did tweeting that they are 'fucking scumbags' is maintaining cohesiveness and integrity between his words and feelings. If you choose to think less of DHH as a result of the way he behaved then that is your prerogative, but based on the things he's said publicly about not caring much about seeming 'unprofessional' I don't think he will care much, if at all.

It's not acceptable if you want to present yourself as the spokesperson for a friendly business. If you use your Twitter account as a platform for expressing both your personal and corporate thoughts I think it's best to keep the wording civil. Roasting Curebit over Twitter like this seems childish to me at best.

That's 100% not true. Not in every case.

I recently had a conversation with one of the friendliest businesses I patronize (an espresso bar in Sydney). The owner swore like a sailor about an ex-staff member who'd come back with the keys he'd "lost", and stolen from him in full view of the security cameras.

You need to know our audience, and to have chosen the personality you're prepared to project as your businesses spokesperson, but DHH (and Ben) have clearly both chosen to be perceived as "guys who'll use strong language when people steal from them". That choice might not "work" if you're in the clergy, or a school principal, but making that choice as a café owner or software company spokesperson falls a long way short of "not acceptable", at least in my book.

It's always impossible to measure the _really_ interesting stuff, but I wonder if 37Signals earned more benefit from people thinking things like "DHH is _really_ passionate about his business." than they lost from people who though "he used curse words on Twitter, I don't want to do business with him anymore"? (Patrick? How do ou a/b test founder personalities for conversion rate? ;-)


Well, he had a conversation with YOU; DHH had a conversation with 52,000. I felt the ad hominem attacks were a little brusque, and while they certainly didn't offend me, I can understand that some would consider his reaction a bit unprofessional.

I'd personally reserve a moniker like "fucking scumbags" for people who would steal from their family/friends to fuel a coke habit. Or maybe Go Daddy.

EDIT: ok, I'll now admit that I misunderstood the term "ad hominem attack". A more appropriate definition would be "overly-generalized insult left open to interpretation", e.g. "douchebag". Something along the lines of "fucking lazy hack" would probably have been more accurate.

I think I could stage strong arguments that 1) DHH considers his coworkers to strongly fit in the second half of the term "family/friends", and 2) that for some people "serial entrepreneurship" carries many of the traits of cocaine addiction...

Define acceptable. "friendly business" - as opposed to "unfriendly business"? Explain the difference between personal and "corporate" thoughts.

"typical East Coast bullshit." is how Steve Jobs described this sort of drivel.

We've entered an age of clearer, more direct and transparent communications. There's no time nor need for formalities.

civility, empathy, professionalism and respect for other people aren't formalities and I think there's lots of room, time and need for them in modern business practice.

> It's not acceptable if you want to present yourself as the spokesperson for a friendly business.

37signals is very open about being an opinionated company. Their blog is quite happy to take a stance, they've always enjoyed mixing it up, and they've never seemed to have an issue with telling people "don't like it, don't use our products".

There are no such things as personal thoughts and corporate thoughts. They're all just thoughts.

Good thing you're here to tell 37signals' owners how they have to behave to be taken seriously as a company. With that kind of personal language, they'd never get any serious customers!

Oh wait.

Here's the thing: this is how they've built their company. This is the kind of thing they say.

It's totally "acceptable" for DHH to tweet whatever the hell he wants, because that's the image he cultivated. That's what people love him for. That's why they follow him on Twitter, attend his talk, buy the books he cowrote.

You can dislike it all you like - nobody's forcing you to read it, nor forcing you to talk that way. But where on earth do you get off saying it's "unacceptable"?

Are you saying that they weren't fucking scumbags?

Integrity is personal -- and it means doing what you say, and vice versa. In other words, congruency.

Which means that it's perfectly integral and congruent for DHH to call somebody a "fucking scumbag" when that person steals from DHH's company. His values, and his words, and his actions all line up perfectly. He is behaving exactly like himself.

Even if you fall back on the dictionary definition of "the quality of being honest and having strong moral character," it fits.

Just because YOU don't think somebody should use a certain word doesn't mean they lack integrity. It also doesn't mean that anyone else cares.

>when that person steals from DHH's company

So now using some design without permission is called stealing? so, copyright infringement is stealing or not?

I'd be interested in understanding why someone would vote this down. I know it's tangential to the discussion, but it's a really glaring hypocrisy. To call it "copyright infringement" in the context of digital media and "stealing" in the context of website design strikes me as disingenuous, at best. I tend to be obtuse when it comes to these matters, however. I'd love to hear some more subtle commentary on the matter.

while not always true, a lack of professionalism typically signals a lack of integrity.

I find it remarkable the extent to which this comment was down voted. I stand by my comments, and will even go one step further to explicitly state that I think DHH and Curebit handled this unprofessionally. I don't know any of the people involved, so I can't say a thing about their integrity, which isn't my point. How you handle yourself in situations like this signals certain things to people that they then interpret and use a data to form an opinion about you and your business.

I've posted elsewhere how the Curebit misstep caused me to form an opinion about the maturity of their product. I'm not going to bother of relating how DHH's response has changed my opinion of the 37Signals business, especially on HN given the ridiculous moderating practices related to anything remotely critical of 37Signals.


I agree. I'm not sure where the ambiguity around professionalism came about. But, I truly doubt anyone misunderstood what you were saying and decided to take it apart on some weird technicality. DHH could have been the bigger man and I believe his words would have carried gravitas had that been the case. He has the right to publicly react how he likes, but it seemed a bit childish to me and didn't evoke any sense of empathy.

Yup, exactly my point. Thanks for the right words ;-)

I've been thinking this morning about the knee jerk moderation and failure to communicate in this thread. There's a strong undercurrent of "Internet entrepreneur" that makes up HN, and I'd expect the discourse here to reflect the manner in which people communicate in their business endeavours. Knee jerk reactions, pedantry and emotional dogma don't have much place in business.

I'd kinda hoped that there could be some discussion about professionalism, what it means and how we can apply it to what we do. It appears that I expect too much, or the wrong things from HN.

There is no single definition of "professionalism," and the word is therefore totally meaningless the way you use it.

I have found that "professionalism" is generally incompatible with honesty and integrity.

Professionals are judged on appearance and appearance of action: not on what they actually do and the consequences of their actions. Similarly, to act "professionally" often means to act against your personal beliefs, to suppress your emotion, to ignore empathy and to react coldly.

To be "business-like" is often to be cruel and socially irresponsible: that's "just business".

I would like to be judged by my demeanour rather than my appearance and on the consequence of my actions rather than my actions.

fucking |ˈfəkiNG|

used for emphasis or to express anger, annoyance, contempt, or surprise.

scumbag |ˈskəmˌbag|

a contemptible or objectionable person.

It's appropriate.

EDIT: here's full context per JackWebbHeller's request:

@dhh The Sharebooster site is serving even more images straight off the Highrise server: http://yfrog.com/oddh4zoj . Fucking scumbags.

It's appropriate when taken out of context with two generic dictionary definitions...

ad hominem attacks are never appropriate

This was not ad hominem, please look it up.

An ad hominem is used within the confines of an argument. There is no argument here. He is calling them what they are. They stole, that is clear, the argument is air-tight (they have even apologized).

I wouldn't use this kind of language myself (not in any circumstance), but ad hominem it is not.

Correct. I used the words literally, I meant "personal attacks" instead, which frankly I don't think helped him make his point stronger.

"Ad Hominem" doesn't apply here.[1]

(DHH didn't say that using 37Signals assets directly was bad because they were fucking scumbags, just that what they did was bad and they were fucking scumbags as a result.)

[1] http://plover.net/~bonds/adhominem.html

That's not true at all. They are appropriate when you are actually trying to deflate the opposing side's character. For example, if someone has a history of making poor choices, it's likely that any further choice they make is also likely poor. That's why judges often take into consideration whether an offense is someone's first, or someone's third.

With that being said, both sides definitely should have reconsidered their PR strategy. Both being techies, it's reasonable to assume that they should be fully aware of how things like this propagate on the internet.

So when someone makes the same mistake 3 times, you call them a moron and that fixes it?

Did you bother to read my entire post? The first part was correcting his statement. The second part denounced the insult in this case.

Yes I did. In any case an ad hominem attack is a logical fallacy, and as such it is never appropriate.

With all due respect to Jason and DHH, I wouldn't consider 37signals a "friendly" company. Mailchimp is a friendly company, but even still, I could see Ben (or any founder) having a similar reaction.

If I found someone blatantly repurposing something I worked hard to create, I'd have a similar reaction. This guys aren't CXOs of a Fortune 100 company that need to fear how the board and stock holders may react (and god fucking bless 'em for that). They're scrappy guys still hustling like they launched yesterday.

Calling them "fucking scumbags" isn't a cocky response, it's a free reality check. Poor Allan had a pretty significant lapse of judgment, and DHH may have given him the most valuable lesson of his life.

They're scrappy guys still hustling like they launched yesterday.

I don't think DHH has had a need to hustle in a while. He could have easily embarrassed cluebit with a witty remark, rather than embarrassing himself at the same time by the choice of language.

I don't think DHH has had a need to hustle in a while.

Exactly. Guys in his situation don't need to, but they still choose to. When you're playing with that sort of passion and intensity, you defend with vigor. That's embarrassing?

It's not like he drove over to cluebit's office and started smashing shit. He called him/them out. That's it, that's all.

Strong language and strong feelings over work is considered very unprofessional and therefore an "embarrassment" to workaday types with starched blue oxford shirts and khaki pants. It's their worldview, which is fine. Except the starched shirts are always going around telling the rest of us (with green hair, funny company names, or a love of limber, lashing, fierce words) that we are wrong and unacceptable when we're just going about our business the way we (and our customers) like.

The starched shirts feel a need to make everyone conform to their view.

So sadly, it's never "that's all" when it comes to them. We shall fight them on the shores, etc. etc.

I don't think DHH has had a need to hustle in a while.

It's cluebit that are scrappy guys still hustling, even if they got over a million in investor money...

For DHH to have "embarrassed himself," he would have to feel embarrassed. He clearly doesn't, since he uses this kind of straightforward, salty language all the time.

It's only in your head that he is embarrassed.

You can embarrass yourself without feeling it, watch a political debate sometime.

And yes, in my head I do feel embarrassed for him when I see him lowering himself to name-calling over such a trivial issue.

I have no problems with salty language between equal opponents or when the other side is clearly malicious. In this case the opponent is such a pity that it feels akin to someone slapping a 5yr old for scratching their lamborghini.

I don't and wouldn't use the language that he did.

But what he said was true. This wasn't ad hominem because it wasn't an argument. The argument is clear, Curebit stole, and have apologized. Therefore his reaction is not an attack but an accurate label.

Whether it is "professional" or not is a different story.

I don't know about that, the founders of Curebit are old enough to be held responsible for their actions. A 5 year old, not so much.

A 5-year-old who is probably actually in his 20s, just got $1.2 million in funding, and said "yeah I stole, but it was only up for a week, and only a test, lesson: if I steal, give credit"?

Please. If we're going to hold an intelligent debate, you need to work on your analogies.

I think the funding reflects more on the investors than anything else.

And the level of incompetence at play here is precisely what makes DHH's reaction feel so out of place. Without thinking anyone could come up with a dozen classy ways to play the situation. Instead he chose the one that makes himself look less than ideal...

37Signals is making their point heard, but it's not the professional way to handle things. I completely understand the reaction, DHH is rightfully upset. It's usually best to take some time to cool off and then respond when you're a little less emotional.

That's not DHH way. He is fast with everything.

But that doesn't make it right. "It's how he approaches everything" isn't a reason, it's context.

Just because an emotional response goes against MBA Corporate PR 101 doesn't make it wrong. He can do whatever he wants, and he does. In the context of his company, I'd even say it's a winning business strategy, because it's different and doesn't feel artificial, which is refreshing in this age of sterilized corporate communications, and is therefore memorable.

And there's nothing morally wrong about fighting back against people who have ripped you off.

While I believe DHHs reaction/words are entirely attributable to his passion for his company/product/coworkers, Cynical-Me also notes that this choice of public personality is generating an awful lot of pageviews/eyeballs/comments, and even the negative-to-DHH comments are largely positive about Highrise/37Signals.

If a hughely talented but completely amoral PR specialist had scripted this, perhaps it would have turned out exactly the same way...


You 're not the only one. I would even call it an understandable mistake for someone who just launched. Telling them to go get some ethics, calling them indecent and scumbags is not the right response. You point their wrongdoings, and let others come to those conclusions, esp. when the accused shows some signs of repent.

For comparison, when the Oatmeal found his comics stolen, here's how he responded: http://theoatmeal.com/blog/funnyjunk

PS. i'm not defending anyone, but as an outsider i found the response was over the top and allangrant didn't call any names

Two comments. Firstly, it seems to me that the current mega upload drama seems to say that the FBI thinks funnyjunk's business model puts them smack in the middle of whatever the proper legal terminology is when lawyers mean "fucking scumbags". Secondly, you only need to click on "update" link from the page you linked to to find the oatmeal guy calling the funnyjunk guy a moron...

I understand that there's a large section of the US society that has a significantly lower tolerance for "curse words" than at least my cross section of Australian society, but "fucking scumbag" is pretty close the the terminology I'd use if someone "stole" a bunch of design work like that from my business (I'd not use that terminology quite so publicly, since the other stakeholders where I am wouldn't appreciate it, and I'm happy to self-censor on a business front to meet their expectations...)

that was a year later

You realize there's two parts to the oatmeal response right? It also includes strong language. For example: "To the users of FunnyJunk: I never had plans to sue FunnyJunk and get it shut down; I just wanted my stolen comics removed -- your admin is a moron who chooses his words about as carefully as a mule chooses where to take a shit."

Anyone who has seen the wrath poured out on people who dislike (or disagree with) the oatmeal on its facebook page has to laugh a bit when the creator -- I forget his name -- is held up as a model of level-headed behavior.

you realize that was 1 year after the situation started and after he contacted the funnyjunk staff

That wasn't even poor choice of words, he deliberately tried to instigate a riot and sensationalized the response.

I agree actually, I was just pointing out that it was a bit hypocritical to hold up the oatmeal as a good example of responding to being ripped off. I'm not particularly offended by the response of DHH to curebits either.

Yeah, I meant what he said in the quote--I don't know if he should have said anything more, but it certainly seems far from a mere "poor choice of words".

Amazing response. This is an even stronger case, as these clone sites are duplicating his business, and taking money right from his pocket in the process. He/She handled it in a standup fashion.

This makes the whole debate even stranger. The fella from Curebit messed up in a lot of ways (really, he couldn't even be bothered to host the content himself?), but on a scale of 1 to a million, I would put this whole mess at closer to 1. Let's be frank, any html/css/js you toss online can be sourced, it is the nature of the client side rendering world we live in.

Where do you draw the line, is it not okay to use someone else's javascript function? Is it not okay to use their mix of background colour and fonts? When we start to decide what is and is not okay, we start to create some scary precedence.

Did you see the update?

"To the users of FunnyJunk: I never had plans to sue FunnyJunk and get it shut down; I just wanted my stolen comics removed -- your admin is a moron who chooses his words about as carefully as a mule chooses where to take a shit."


Are you under the assumption that these are fresh-faced kids out of school who don't know how to dress themselves, let alone "launch" a web app?

You might want to go and study some LinkedIn profiles before apologizing for these guys. And as far is DHH is concerned, why would you want to steal from him in the first place. He gave his best work away for free. I'm no fan but I believe he's entitled to call these people out. In whatever tone he deems appropriate. Get used to it if you think following Curebit's steps is the way to go. It's a rough world out there.

Yet Stallman is coddled every time he calls someone "evil" and wishes them dead. Odd that.

I'm not disagreeing with your other points, but Stallman did not wish anyone dead. He actually said nobody deserves to die, but we sometimes deserve the end of their bad influence.

I think most people with experience and maturity understood what was said by Stallman and interpreted it correctly, including the timing of his remarks.

Neither you, nor I, know what Stallman wished for or against.

> why would you want to steal from him in the first place

Read your own answer here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3453379

I don't get it. Are you saying that 37Signals should be proud that someone made unauthorized use of their work for profit?

It's not unheard of.


Regarding your dhh comment, quite a few engineers cultivate this image of themselves very consciously (and some companies, although not 37Signals, have a reputation for having higher concentrations of such engineers). At the very least, they're smart people and therefore are likely conscious that the way they publicly speak influences how most people will view them and the company they represent.

It's a shame that we all can't be polite and friendly and remember pg's golden rule every once in a while, but alas there's not much we can do about it.

Let's spend our time on more important things :)

Would you prefer the (more creative) way Tiny Tower approached Zynga for blatantly ripping their game concept + design? yes, its embarrassing for both sides - but people SHOULD know these kind of things


It's interesting that zynga mostly gets a free pass from name-calling when they ripoff game ideas. The only way to explain it is that zynga is a public company that makes lots of money, which surprisingly gives them some sort of immunity.

How does Zynga get a free pass? People rip into them all the time for stealing, copying, ripping off, etc. other people's games, ideas, and mechanics.

There have even been lawsuits, some of which Zynga lost.

They make so much money they don't care, and they made that money long before they were public.

I partially agree and thought the same thing when reading DHH's responses but it seems that that may be part of his personality. If you read any of his blog posts on SVN he tends to use some "not-so-friendly language"... In my opinion, it gets annoying and seems a bit unintelligent when he is always cursing.

It's truly shocking to hear DHH use profanity.

Being a rude person for a long time should not grant rights to be a rude person in the present.

Nice sarcasm. The fact still remains that maybe DHH should take a deep breath and remember back before he was a millionaire. I'm by no means condoning what Curebit has done but unless DHH tried to contact them discreetly and they told him to go hell, I think maybe he could have taken it down a notch before he went roadhouse on these guys.

I think what you are trying to do away with is something fundamental to DHH/37 Signals. They think they got to where they are because of who they are, and they've gone on to write several books and blog posts on the matter.

I am personally not a fan of their attitude, but there are a lot of people enabling them.

No public shaming means no disincentive to do the same thing again to some other company.

And given that they also seem to have stolen someone's logo, seems like they're in need of a lesson.


This is a little beyond the pale and I fail to see why DHH should contact them discreetly. No, I don't like DHH's attitude sometimes but lifting code straight from someone's site is just so brain-dead it defies belief. The vast majority of developers would certainly have a look at other peoples' layouts but lifting code straight is just unreal.

This will be controversial, but if it were real programming code i would be angry. Since it's just html/css, static stuff, one may say it's not a big deal. In fact that was curebit's first response: they asked if they should keep the code and just add credit. I know it's wrong, but in the broad internet ethics it seems to be considered a certain form of fair use.

"if it were real programming code i would be angry " -> the work of "programmers" is worth plenty, but the work of designers is worth zilch. To be fair, this is also the attitude taken by Curebit.

Back before DHH was a millionaire, he was creating Rails instead of copy-pasting other people's landing pages.

You might want to go back and read the exchange on Twitter.


I tend to agree. We are ALL inspired by other people's work. If you say you are "completely original" then you are the scumbag and a blatant liar.

I think DHH should have just said that "I am sure it will be resolved and Curebit will do the right thing." instead. The whole situation is just lame.

The actual apology:

Recently we launched a site with several pages copied from 37signals' Highrise. We did more than take inspiration from their design - we actually used html & css code, and hotlinked to images on their site. We apologize to David and 37signals for ripping off their work. It was stupid, lazy, and disrespectful of their creative efforts. It's particularly painful for us to have done this to 37signals because they are big heroes of ours. We just hope they will accept our apologies.

One wonders how this ever happened and why on Earth they didn't have HTML and front-end skills enough to do their own presentation.

The fact that their blog is now down with a database error does not exactly inspire much confidence.

They're sitting around and one of them reads the 37 signals blog post about A/B testing and conversion rates. He says "Dude, do you think their landing page will actually convert better than our current one?" "I don't know, lets try it."

So one of them snags the source from Highrise and changes some images around. I'm sure he previewed it, it looked fine and he published it. He probably forgot to change out the button images because they looked fine.

Who knows if this is how it happened, but it really seems like it could have been an honest (but definitely pretty stupid) mistake.

Any developer with any intelligence or skill doesn't do that. You don't just 'publish' something. As a developer there is no way I can imagine this being done innocently because it is something that is always at the forefront of your mind.

Are you an entrepreneur? If you are, and you've had any success, I'm sure you've "just published" something along the way. It's actually a rather important skill. Not that you should copy and paste something to try it out - you definitely shouldn't - but quick and dirty trial implementations are fairly common.

Edit: Not sure why this is getting downvoted, anyone care to explain? Action in startups is not always deliberate.

perhaps because of the condescending tone of your "and youve had any success" sentence.

Ah thanks. Rereading that, I can see what you mean. I mostly said that to caveat that there are many ways to do entrepreneurship badly, and most of the successful paths involve some amount of shooting from the hip.

I have to agree with you here... Working in a startup is a hectic and crazy lifestyle which involves lots of mistakes, lots of learning, and lots of "hurry up and get x (feature, fix, etc) out the door", which results in mistakes being made. We can all sit around and pretend that we all write bullet proof, meticulously tested, beautiful code all the time and only release things that have been tested extensively and peer-reviewed, but that's just not how it works in the real world most of the time.

I did not down vote, but I thought I'd just point out the part that I thought could be taken offensively. :)

It's not too hard to imagine. Some designer was assigned to replicate the page and he did the easiest thing possible. They probably figured nobody gives a crap, and they would normally be right. But for whatever reason somebody decided to call these particular guys out and for whatever reason this particular case caught on the tech sites.

I would bet money there is not one web designer here who has never taken a tiny snippet from another site. It's kinda more of a matter of the quantity of content that they took. Plus the hot linking was especially dumb.

How old are you guys? Not making a judgement, genuinely just wondering.

I think they're in their mid-20s. They screwed up, apologized, asked how they could make it right, got crucified some more, and now have fully prostrated themselves before DHH and the court of public opinion. It's a horrible experience for them, and I reckon they've learned something. One of the lessons they've likely learned is that people are perfectly cool with successful, experienced entrepreneurs casting endless screeds against inexperienced folks who should have known better but didn't. Wonder if they'll have a chance to apply that lesson when/if they become successful themselves. Given their penitence, a little mercy is in order.

"and hotlinked to images on their site."


It boggles the mind!

I have multiple responses to multiple comments on this thread, so I'm going to continue here.

For full disclosure, I'm a young entrepreneur (<25), run a company that was started a few months after curebit (my cofounder applied and interviewed for the same YC class with a different idea), have raised pretty close to what curebit has raised, and am also a 500startups-funded company.

I'd just like to take a minute to hope that a couple of screw ups by others won't put companies like ours at a disadvantage. It makes me sad to think that "how old are you guys" is one of the first questions someone would ask, since I'm not sure physical age has anything to do with how people react to different situations. I'd sure like to think that if I screwed up people would chalk it up to me being me and not my generation.

I also hope people realize the big mouth investor with no taste (especially in what he wears ;) isn't the only person vetting 500startup companies. He has a whole investment team. Yes, Dave does pick a lot of the 500s companies himself (he was our biggest advocate), but the entire 500s team has a say. I also think you're overlooking the fact that curebit was also supported by YCombinator (and Dave has a lot of respect for PG's team and the companies they accept).

I don't condone what curebit did (far from it). I am close to positive someone at YC would have at least helped hash out ideas for design (and 500s' mantra is design, data, distribution), and, Dave has always said: running lean doesn't mean running cheap. But I hope that what one company does doesn't ruin it for the rest of us.

I was the one who asked their ages. I'm 22. I was just wondering.

I knew that if I just asked "how old are you?" it would come off as a snarky comment on the situation. That's why I also included "Not making a judgement, genuinely just wondering."

While I wasn't trying to tie age to the issue at hand, I would have to disagree with your assertion that physical age doesn't have anything to do with how people react to different situations. Maybe experience is the real driver but obviously that is closely related to age. Either way that's neither here nor there.

As for the rest of your comment, I'm not totally clear on what you were trying to get across or who you were responding to but it still doesn't seem like it deserved to be down voted.

this is an example of the kind of sloppy stuff that happens when an angel investor with a big mouth and no taste puts money into 500 startups. you can't expect the best folks are gonna work with c-rate investors. cut rate investors = cut rate entrepreneurs. shame on this company for their blatant theft.

thanks. think you meant "when an angel investor with a big mouth and no taste like 500 Startups puts money into..."

regardless, we don't shy away from helping our founders, even should they go astray. not proud right now, but we hope to be helpful where possible.

live & learn.

Dave, I wanted to tell you that I think the way you were handling the situation with DHH on Twitter was great! I saw a video on YouTube titled "the last lecture" a while back, and the biggest takeaway for me was how the guy defined an apology:

Proper apologies have three parts: 1) What I did was wrong. 2) I’m sorry that I hurt you. 3) How do I make it better? It’s the third part that people tend to forget…. Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.

This has stuck with me and I noticed you were following on it very well, patiently and with humbleness.

The most import part of that apology formula is missing, actually meaning it. Also if the answer to #3 is obvious (ie stop doing what your apologizing for) then one shouldn't have to ask.

Exactly. When I'm hurt by, and/or furious at someone, the last thing I want to do is spend cycles coming up with how they can make it better. Someone did me wrong and now they want me to figure out how to fix it? Hearing someone ask me that would make me even more mad and hurt.

I always thought the best approach is to ask; not in a stupid way, but in a well-meaning way. As an example say I rear end your car during the morning traffic hour. I ought to get out of my car and say i) I should have been driving more carefully, clearly I have ruined your day, ii) You seem to be dressed for work so now you're going to be late because of me, probably going to be distracted the rest of the day, and will be hassled with car repairs and insurance claims - I am very sorry about that iii) Let me at least pay for your damages (insurance deductible), give you a ride to work (or pay for a cab), and please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help you with any inconveniences caused by this incident.

dave, what do you think should be allan's response here.. because this is stupid enough to actually be true and an honest mistake. But this is something thats going to stick around especially with dhh making so much noise, which he have every right to. I mean a startup might dig themselves into a hole like this sometimes.. so is "fix it, apologize and move on" a solution or as it seems to be the case here , allan has apologized thrice ...

Dave, your founder has a pattern of stealing not just from 37signals..

Guess what? The issue will not die this weekend..

What is your plan B?

I don't envy you right now. It must be akin to apologizing to your neighbor while your pet donkey is run amok in their flower bed.

None of that post makes any grammatical sense.

This is beyond the pale and it is not a case of 'live and learn'. Every single one of us as developers have taken the page layouts of others, even looked at their code and then coded something ourselves based around it. What you don't do is list layout code straight and insert your own images and URLs. I take it you're investing enough to employ people with HTML, CSS and front-end skills?

Will you throw some funding at me please?

Does creating all these throw away accounts impact the system much? You know you're gonna say something offensive to someone so you create a burn account.

PG would obviously need to clarify; but I assume he clears out the accounts with just a few comments that have almost never been logged-in to.

The only way to try and stop it is to prevent people being able to create a new a/c from an ip address they were using to login with on their proper account. (and maybe penalize them for trying).

That's probably a fruitless effort though with proxies et al.

One solution that is employed by some sites (SBNation, for instance) is to have a period of time (a day or a few days) after signing up before a person is able to comment. That way genuine new users are forced to lurk a bit and learn the ways of the community and it could also prevent things like the people creating burners just to come say stuff they aren't willing to associate with their real name. You'd also largely prevent stuff like the Reddit invasion on SOPA day, etc.

I wonder how the community reconciles so many posters being up in arms about this event while frequently promoting stories from torrent freak and generally dismissing the belief that much harm comes from copyright infringement. Is it different when someone you know or respect is the injured party?

I think people find it more offensive if 1) you take credit for the work and 2) you make money by using it. But you're right, there must be some internal mental model that allows them to be so obviously different.

Yes, precisely. One case is copyright infringement for personal use, one is copyright infringement and misattribution for commercial use. Compare e.g. Bob downloading "The Dark Knight" to watch it versus Bob selling copies of "The Dark Bob, by Bob" which is actually just TDK with a different label slapped on it. I think a lot of people would find the latter to be much more wrong.

Whilst 37signals does use this bit of creative IP to generate revenue, the page itself isn't actually the product - so copying it creates neither a reduced demand for the page itself or 37signals' services, nor does it impact their bottom-line in any obvious way (curebit and 37signals aren't in the same product-space).

Although the page itself is defensible IP for 37signals, the chances of them taking legal action on it (see above) is so remotely slim that it puts this whole thing into the realm of creative and professional courtesy rather than copyright infringement.

It's more like a stranger coming into the town saloon, getting drunk, and spilling his beer on the local bad-ass.

"Recently we launched a site with several pages copied from 37signals’ Highrise. We did more than take inspiration from their design – we actually used html & css code, and hotlinked to images on their site. We apologize to David and 37signals for ripping off their work. It was stupid, lazy, and disrespectful of their creative efforts. It’s particularly painful for us to have done this to 37signals because they are big heroes of ours. We just hope they will accept our apologies."

from Google cache http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?sclient=psy-ab&...

I hope they're A/B testing their apologies, because that one sucked.

The thing that amazes me most about this whole debacle is how completely unnecessary it was. Web designers are popping up everywhere like fucking mushrooms, and these guys (presumably pretty intelligent) chose to just steal a design.

Developing a nice-looking design is the easiest part of a startup. Generating the idea, interest, and funding is what stalls 98% of them. They had all that, but screwed up on the most doable aspect of the company. That alone greatly calls into question the judgment of the founders (not to mention the moral implications).

For me, the really objectionable part isn't the "thievery", it's the sloppiness of it.

Anyone with half a clue knows that if you're copying HTML:(a) you'd better redact any references to the original source, (b) you ought to change the class names, and (c) you sure as shit better not link to resources on the owner's servers. After all, most HTML/CSS is borderline protectable under copyright in the first place.

P.S. If you're copy/pasting HTML/CSS, you're pretty terrible at web design. Anyone with even the slightest facility in web design could whip up a clone of the 37Signals landing page in an evening without doing more than sneaking a peek at the source.

Developing a nice-looking design is the easiest part of a startup.

Yes and no. They didn't choose the design because it looked nice, they chose it because it had already been A/B tested as more effective (admittedly, for a product other than their own, but still).

As someone who has created nice designs, and as someone that has also extensively multivariant tested designs to see which one gets a 1% boost in clickthrough... the 'nice' part is just the tip of the iceberg.

To clarify: not defending what they did. Just suggesting what I think their reasoning was.

That's why the "accident" explanation is somewhat plausible, imo.

It really reminded me of the homeschooling family in some small town who named their kid "Hitler" and then tried to sue the local bakery who refused to put his name on a cake. They really seemed to think the whole US would get behind them as a "free speech" movement.

If you're gonna name your kid something horrible, that's one thing. But if you actually think people are going to support you for it? A whole nother kettle of fish entirely.

The scariest people are people who not only do wrong, but who don't have the good sense to realize how others will react to it. They either entirely lack "theory of mind," or it's so out of touch with reality as to be utterly useless.

Whenever you come across people like that in life/business, I've found that it's smart to run as fast as possible the other way.

I'm sure I've seen the design of that "Error establishing a database connection" page somewhere before..

The copying seems to go deeper than just an experimental A/B test. Compare:


with the top half of


Edit: Replaced Basecamp signup page with Highrise signup page.

Please. Hundreds of startups use a 37signals-inspired pricing page with 3 plans and the middle "most popular option". Now you're just going on a witch hunt.

You can't look at the two pages, side-by side and say that curebits was "inspired" - it's blatant copying, and poorly done. Look at all the elements that were basically cut & pasted:

  o FREE "On all Accounts" up top.
  o Thicker border on center rectangle
  o Offset rectangle in center
  o Black /  Same shade of blue for the Name, description of price. 
Interesting to note, there was a (successful in my book) attempt at original design by using Red/Orange instead of Black for the price.

  o "Choose Plan" - Same name, positioning - and bit-for bit identical.  
  o "Cancel Anytime" Immediately above three options
  o Statement of "Confidence"  (Trusted vs Safe Secure)
  o Quoted endorsement below the statement of confidence.
It's not illegal, or even particularly immoral - what it is is shady, and unprofessional behavior by anybody who wanted to be able to work as a well-regarded designer. Whoever did that work didn't have a lot of self respect as a designer - and, based on the professional designers that I know - probably didn't consider themselves to be first and foremost a designer. Probably an engineer who had to slap some UI elements onto their website. If all you are trying to do is bottom-feed and make $$$, (Think about how Zynga, or Samsung build many of their products) - then this is actually a pretty good approach - just copy what has worked for others.

Real world story - when Netscape finally gave up the ghost as a software company and Mike Homer came up on top, and convinced Jim Barkdsale that our future was as a "Portal" - Jim Barksdale, our Beloved and incredibly well regarded CEO, came out at an all hands, spelled it out to the company, and said "The competition is now the portals - and that's something that we can go out and copy." - he used that word, "copy".

Within a week, we had _entire walls_ covered with plotted printouts (remember those?) of Yahoo's Portal, and, underneath those plotted printouts - element by element replicas depicting Netscape.com. You could almost overlay them.

It was successful. Netscape sold for $4 Billion to AOL ($10 Billion on the last day of trading) - but I can guarantee you that none of those designers were particularly proud of the work they where doing, and hopefully didn't put it in their portfolio.

> It's not illegal, or even particularly immoral

Are you sure it's not illegal? From the bottom of the copied page:

"All text and design is copyright ©1999-2012 37signals, LLC. All rights reserved."

Adding a copyright statement to a page doesn't change copyright laws. A court would have to side with you, something that's by no means guaranteed.

Right, they'd have to go to court and be found guilty of copying this copy-written work... I guess you're right that it's not guaranteed, but it's hard to imagine this wouldn't be a slam dunk.

When does it cross the line from inspired to copied? The HTML markup for the 3 panel middle thing is almost identical. The Choose Plan buttons are pixel for pixel identical according to imagemagick compare. Was the other page just inspired also?

I would say that the "Choose Plan" buttons are a little more than "inspiration". In fact, they're exact copies:


I agree.. BUT: i.e. the "Choose plans" buttons are just copied without any change from the 37Signals signup page. Compare http://highrisehq.com/images/btn_chooseplan_small.png with http://www.curebit.com/images/icons/choose_btn_small.png?132...

It's a little more than skin deep.

It looks like they've now changed their pricing page to remove the similarities. I didn't see it before but certainly at least the boxes around packages are gone and the buttons have been changed.

[edit] Found an image of how it looked here for anyone interested: http://yfrog.com/nwxfxoyj

Pretty good apology Dave McClure wrote for them.

I know sarcasm when I see it, but judging from the earlier exchange this would actually not be surprising.

Agreed. Based on Dave's response on twitter and the exchange between Allan and DHH, I believe Dave cracked the whip on them. This apology doesn't have the same tone.

To everyone who thinks DHH and 37signals overreacted to this, keep in mind that the IA/UI paradigm introduced in Basecamp has been aped by many startups in their web apps with nary a whiff of public complaint.

It's one thing to copy the design of a marketing page (which is pretty weak), but to serve assets from that company's servers? Such an action is so idiotic and pathetic, that it's absurd. It's completely inexcusable and deserves to be called out whenever it happens.

I've never seen a grown man act the way DHH did. Call it out, but do it with some professionalism.

Why? Who gives a shit, other than people who would rather talk about "professionalism" rather than, oh I don't know, actual Things That Are Happening?

You've never seen a grown man use strong language or call somebody a fucking something-something? Guess you've never read Mark Twain, or watched George Carlin, or any comic, ever, except maybe that guy from Full House who specializes in "clean comedy." Or been to a bar. Or watched a sports game. Or hung out with people who are passionate.

Please, can the disingenuous hyperbole. Nobody is buying it.

Most importantly, not everyone has to buy into your idea of "professionalism." Thank god.

Oh, please. I know lots of passionate people who are insanely smart and talented and "non-corporate" and still respect time-honored decorum. Why? Because enlightened and influential people choose their words very carefully to avoid acting like bullies.

This is indeed an open-and-shut case of blatant thievery and pathetic excuses and apologies, but let's not make it out to be the mother of all sins. 37signals will continue counting their millions in the morning and a light slap on the bare ass of a small-time thief would have been much more effective.

Somewhere else on this thread you called someone out on his/her analogies yet you invoke Samuel Clemons and George Carlin? Get it right, DHH is Andrew Dice Clay in this whole mess.

The love child of Andrew Dice Clay and Bobcat Goldthwait.

In a regular professional context, in public? No. I have not. Nor does any other idiot doing it make it any less juvenile.

Please don't compare DHH to Mark Twain or George Carling, entertainers by trade and leaders at such, and call me disingenuous. #fail

DHH isn't an entertainer? He writes and speaks about his life and biz, and others' businesses/business in general, just like Mark Twain and George Carlin, and people pay money for his books and speaking engagements. Sounds like entertainment to me.

And if you haven't heard people cussing in "professional contexts," you must not work with any designers or developers of any caliber. Or serious businessmen and women. Unless you live and work in Utah or in a church, perhaps?

I said, "in public," and no, I have not heard anybody professional of stature rant like a baby like DHH did. Writing and speaking about your life and biz does not make you like George Carlin or Mark Twain. I do both of those things, and I am not even close to being the entertainer or cultural icons those people are. Nor does the fact that you talk about yourself and your accomplishments entitle you to belittle people or act like an idiot and pretend it's part of your profession.

Someone should have clued you in a long time ago: cussing in professional contexts is like the Hot Topic of edginess.

Your defense of DHH as an entertainer is hilarious. O'Reilly presents... An Evening with DHH.

> except maybe that guy from Full House who specializes in "clean comedy."

Wait, was this a subtle joke? Bob Saget's humor is very vulgar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctHArXFxu9A&feature=playe...

Not my cup of tea, but there it is.

Bob Saget does vulgar comedy?? There goes my childhood. No, I meant Dave whatshisface.

You should probably edit the title to "Apology to 37signals, Kinoma, and LaunchBit"

Edit: The LaunchBit image is a stock photo. I apologize.

The LaunchBit one is particularly egregious. http://yfrog.com/odx67yoj

Nope, it's an iStockPhoto illustration. http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-illustration-9935405-retro-...

Both Launchbit and ShareBooster is breaking the iStockPhoto TOS by using it in their logo though.

Plus its pretty sloppy to use a stock illustration as a logo. I call foul on both.

Thanks for the correction!

actually, both LaunchBit and Curebit got the logo from istockphotos. both are in process of changing I believe.

Founder of LaunchBit here. That's right. We bought the right to use the rocketship off iStockPhoto. It's fair game for anyone to purchase it as well.

> It's fair game for anyone to purchase it as well.

Not for use as a logo, though, it would seem: http://www.istockphoto.com/help/licenses

> Prohibited uses for both Standard and Extended license

> Use in any logo or trademark

I think @dhh wasted a great opportunity to be a leader and a mentor. I think he should have asked allengrant to rise to the occasion. Instead he was incredibly rude and shared his contempt publicly!

It all seems so incongruent to me. On one side of the coin, 37s wants to share their results openly but on the other using the idea they shared makes him "a fucking scumbag." I understand there is a copyright violation involved. However, I suspected 37s would have been more... tactful.

Unfortunately, this is the second time 37signals has disappointed me in the last few weeks. As a customer, they violated my sense of privacy and almost as worse one of their partners is a total hot-head. Personally, and this is only my opinion based on no fact...In the back of my mind I am thinking "what would a hot-head that does not respect my companies privacy do with our information?!" To think I used to look up to them!

I almost feel bad for these guys but I understand why DHH was so pissed. Getting inspiration or even straight up stealing the HTLM and CSS is one thing, but referencing assets on 37signals servers is beyond the pale as 37signals is paying money to serve those assets.

This happened to a company I worked for, a company not only ganked our website but used pictures of our offices and staff we had on our about us page!

I've had this happen and they were actually using a sizable amount of bandwidth.

The great thing about it, though, is that you can move your originals and change the hot linked images to something else. Like a message to their customers, gross pictures, etc. it can be a hilarious opportunity to mess with somebody who is stealing your stuff!

Maybe it's times like these where this bookmarklet is useful:

javascript:void((function(){var a=location.href.replace(/^http%5C:%5C/%5C/(.*)$/,'$1');location.href='http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:+escape(a);})())

Looks like they didn't spend their $1.2m on getting a decent web server either - website down.

No matter how people on both sides react, they are all at the very least decently smart persons and an acceptable apology shouldn't be only a place for redemption. I can't imagine people at Curebit assuming that the ripoff wouldn't be discovered. So why did they do that?

Can someone explain why this is such a big deal? Genuinely curious. It seems the HN hivemind has a much stronger response to someone stealing a web designer's work vs, say stealing a Hollywood studio's work and hiding behind DMCA safe harbor.

Because they have higher standards for themselves (HN startups) than for movie pirates?

I stumble upon stolen graphics so much time, when a company is not able to create an original landing page, how one can expect that company to create something more complex. This is not to say curebit won't succeed, but as one said "we are in a hard world" and people are looking where you succeed but also where you fail. I hope this mistake will be the last one until the go bigger otherwise i'm afraid the won't be forgiven one more time.

Minor nit, but what stuck me most about the apology was that Allan didn't include a link to http://37signals.com.

It's nice that they apologized, but aside from the ethics behind what they did, I think I'd be extremely weary of using Curebit. If they are lazy enough to directly copy HTML/CSS and not even go through the bother of copying images to their own server, where else are they cutting corners?

Has anyone heard from 37? Curebit is good tech that works, they have been more than fair in the few dealings I have had the privilege to work with them on. They, like most companies constantly change... how many logos did Google have. Rather than an indictment on them I see it as on the community. More help, more share, less complaining about things that really don't matter. In today's world product matters, template design is secondary to the many things they are doing daily to make a business. and 37 is the one company that goes out of their way to share what works and encourages startups to use their advice. So curebit made yet another change to their homepage...who cares save the few who tear down cause they cant build up. Allan, u created a great product, u made ur clients more money and are positioning yourself to lead a great new company. Commended u are, and your success will have nothing to do with the design of your homepage....if it were that easy.

Inexcusable but not a bad move in the end. This will all settle and be forgotten except that everyone will remember their name. Unethical and unwitting but a good publicity stunt nonetheless.

Clicking the link (to http://blog.curebit.com/) I'm getting 'Error establishing a database connection'.

Copying someone's layout, jacking a logo and mentioning A/B testing are seriously all it takes to get millions of funding???

I'm on the next flight out to the Valley!


- Some people will actually steal your CHECK icons

- Over-bashing a stealer will not make you look nice

- Immediatism never seem to work on your side

The best way to break a site is to have it come on the front page of Hacker News!

I think DHH did it the wrong way, it is such an arrogant reaction. it is not like Curebit is a concurrent or something like that so they could have just sent an email asking remove the elements.

That's been said, but if this embarrassing event help someone to never ever steal elements again then it's is a goo thing.

Just went through the whole thread on twitter, and now i see that it is #curebit that tried to dig their own grave.

Nevertheless let learn the lessons and move forward, inspire don't steal.

Anyone has a friendly link to a summary of what happened?

Humility on either side would have gone a long way.

Curebit who? Not anymore. Well played.

And where's the apology from 37signals, venturebeat, and the submitters for helping to turn HN into TMZ?

The blog is down, I am getting "error establishing a database connection"

Worst apology ever!

Lean startup

Unfortunately, blog author did not get the lesson.. 37Signals was ONLY ONE-OF_SITES that Cutebit stole from..

Thy have clear habit of doing so

Please cite.

The Sharebooster logo is actually stock art: https://twitter.com/#!/launchbit/status/163328570364669952

And it's a pure coincidence that a company called "curebit" chooses the exact same logo stock-art as one called "launchbit"

Well there's an interesting debate, there.

Launchbit bought a stock image. So even if Curebit saw the logo through Launchbit, is there a reason why they can't buy it too? I imagine the creator of the stock image wouldn't mind the extra money.

I think that using a stock image for your logo is probably unwise for exactly this reason.

Not only unwise, but prohibited: http://www.istockphoto.com/license.php

the kinoma link is much more of the accepted face of imitation, it just rubs a little after the previous issues.

It seems the blog is completely down.

Look for Google Cache link few comments up.

Maybe that is the apology.

No I've managed to read it a while ago

They must have got a hold of 37's backend and forgot to change the database password to their own!

Database connection error...

Don't you have a Google+ account you could've posted it to instead of trying to host it in your own? Are you seriously trying to micro-manage your damage control this way?

I thought they vetted these people or something and would have a damage control recipe in place after the AirBnB debacle last year.

Are you taking issue with a company posting an apology on their own website? I'm not sure how that qualifies as micro-managing.

I'm shaking my head in disbelief, not really taking issue with anything at this point. Either this guy is trying his damnedest to minimize fallout, unserstandably yet so very amateurish, or he's really that clueless and incompetent.

Startup Metrics for Pirates: AARRR! and steal peoples shit lol

Man! Curebit is definitely very wrong, but all those abuses just don't make a pretty read on my twitter feed. I am gonna unfollow DHH. I respect him a lot for what he's achieved, but all that profanity leaves a very very bad taste. Personal learning: never abuse. Those words mean nasty things.

Don't understand the downvotes at all... Curebit's case sets a very ugly example. Profanity in the same sense sets a very ugly example for younger minds, especially when coming from such a well respected entrepreneur.

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.

EDIT: edited to match repost, because of downvote(?) here

I guess downvote-burying is a pretty good way to stimulate discussion, huh? I don't know if I should interpret it as you agreeing with DHH or not.

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