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SOPA is all fun and games until NBC rips off Apple's artwork (thenextweb.com)
417 points by brodd 2033 days ago | hide | past | web | 94 comments | favorite

More likely than not, this is -- as the article surmises -- the result of some intern at a far-flung backwater of NBC's having been sloppy. Probably a Google image search for some query that incidentally returned Apple's artwork among the pile, followed by a "Hey, that looks cool," followed by an appropriation. This is copypasta, not intentional infringement. (It's infringement just the same, and should be taken down, but there are mountains and then there are molehills).

Let's remember the old dictum: never attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity.

I'm not excusing NBC in any way here, least of all for SOPA (those who've read my comments and writings know I'm a huge opponent of the latter). But the likelihood that anyone in any position of power at NBC even saw that page is slim to none. I've worked for NBC in a past life, and I can tell you that the divisions responsible for these web pages don't even show up on the radar. They're so far removed from the power centers of the organization that many people probably aren't even aware they exist. (That, in itself, is a problem; don't get me wrong).

If you want to find much more malicious and intentional rip-offs of this logo, they abound on the interwebz. For example:


Had NBC been using something like that, I think we'd have far more cause for indignation and uproar. Something like that image bespeaks a rather deliberate and shameless attempt to rip off Apple's artwork.


A) Intent never seemed to matter in the SOPA debate.

B) A corporation is responsible for every employee, no matter how lowly, that's the way it works. Look at the FedEx employee who threw a monitor he was delivering over a fence on camera - even though he is but one of 20,000 delivery men, they still were completely responsible for that.

Exactly. I understand that levels of detachment (contracted then subcontracted work, etc) make quality assurance more difficult, but companies like NBC must be held to higher standards especially because of the fights they've chosen to fight. This page is directly linked to from http://www.nbc.com/casting/#home-transformers. One would assume that they'd at least check the content of a site they've linked directly to - there are only 2 content images!

I don't disagree with either of your points. I'm just saying that the spin being put on this story is out of synch with the magnitude of the story.

It is spin, but if you step away from it, I don't think it's unwarranted.

This episode is an excellent demonstration that this sort of casual use is part of the essence of the web. It's so fundamental that even a major corporation does it incidentally. And if you hammer this sort of thing down, you essentially kill the web.

Well stated, and I concur. The irony of this situation is indeed noteworthy, and it demonstrates a pretty biting critique of SOPA itself.

I guess I just see this as a smile-and-raise-an-eyebrow kind of story, and not a break-out-the-pitchforks-and-torches kind of story.

They're not bad people for doing this. Doing this just demonstrates that they're bad people for pushing SOPA.

"I guess I just see this as a smile-and-raise-an-eyebrow kind of story, and not a break-out-the-pitchforks-and-torches kind of story."

I loled :) Saving that in the memory bank for later use. Reddit comment karma, here we come!!

Too late; I've already got my mobbing shoes on.

I disagree. NBC, and others, put exactly this sort of magnitude in their push for SOPA - it seems only fair to push back just as hard.

Not at all. Intern's fault or not, the story is about hypocrisy.

I agree but... Yes, the article does illustrate this point but it's a pretty thin example. There must be better examples of hypocrisy out there. This seems more like manufactured outrage (which is so common it's sickening nowadays). I think the circumstances are relevant here. I mean, look at that site. Does it look like any thought was put into it at all? Had this been a site that looked anything like it was touched by a professional (and by that I mean something that reflects the kind of professional they can hire based on their resources) I could get on board with the criticism. At this point, however, I see this and just kind of shrug and think "damn, that sucks".

But then I always tend to look at these issues from a human perspective. I can't help but take all the extenuating circumstances into account. If you look at this from a strictly legal or ethical perspective then its much easier to support the logic behind the criticisms.

So I understand the outrage but I just can't bring myself to see it in such black and white terms. Now I have to make the standard disclaimer: I don't and never have supported SOPA. (It's pretty awful we have to make those disclaimers to be taken seriously around here).

NBC doesn't disagree. They know they're responsible, and they take they responsibility seriously. Specifically, they fire the intern, they settle with Apple (assuming Apple sends them a bill), and they pass the cost onto their insurance company, which provides them with Errors & Omissions coverage for situations exactly like these. Assuming that NBC is complying with the insurance provider's demand for a pricy and well-staffed rights and clearances operation, then the insurer will pick up the tab. Nothing causal about any of it, and responsibility taken fully. Next.

Of course, the larger point is that every one of these steps is expensive. Only organizations with a LOT of money can afford to operate like this. And that's exactly how publishers like it. If you have to have a LOT of money before you can put anything into the world without the risk of getting sued into oblivion, then suddenly, there are a lot fewer content sources for you to compete with.

The point is, this particular furor over this particular image is simply going to get some low-level designer fired, and not change NBC's stance on SOPA at all.

Changing NBC's stance isn't the goal. Debates aren't literally about changing the participant's minds, since that hardly ever happens. It's about changing the audience's minds. This is advocacy.

This is copypasta, not intentional infringement.

Distinction without difference.

Googling the coolest image out there (for a given subject) and using it on a high profile website for a major company with zero concern for rights (in an industry which exists entirely on IP rights) IS intentional infringement. That the intent punches thru the core of deliberate and on to the uncharted waters of gratuitous disregard does not lessen the intent.

> Distinction without difference.

I would say there is a real difference, here. The point is, SOPA did not recognize this difference, and its promoters should be held to an even higher standard than that which they promote.

According to the law they committed something like 1 billion dollars worth of for profit copy-write infringement based on something someone with about as much power as an 'intern' did. The fact that nobody in either company noticed just, points out how silly the damages are vs. the actual harm.

The real kicker is it's for profit AND they copied the full image. So, every time someone went to that page the web-server made yet another copy which is a separate case of copy-write infringement. So, just take the full penalty and multiply it by the number of number of downloads.

PS: Just immagine what would happen if some prosecutor actually took up the case.

> But the likelihood that anyone in any position of power at NBC even saw that page is slim to none.

Which is exactly the problem. The only reason that the web page wasn't reviewed is to save money/time. Which is a great thing!

However, with the SOPA/ACTA style of repressive laws that follow the "shoot first, ask questions later" principle, a lot of burden will be put onto companies to review/censor all their content prior to being published, and especially for small companies, the costs would be significant.

Please, you think under a SOPA regime one media corp is going to kick another out of bed? Those laws were meant to be used against the plebians.

The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. --Audre Lorde

Don't they say that "The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly."?

NBC were/are a staunch supporter of SOPA. They wanted others to be treated this way, it's only fair they're held to the same standard so that may see how ridiculous the situation is (not that blatant copy/pasting of images is ever condonable).

It's probably some intern, and that's JUST THE POINT:

"This kind of casual copyright infringement, with no malicious intent, is exactly the kind of thing that SOPA was after. (...) SOPA covered so many cases of fair use, remixing, commentary and satire that it would have made a good number of the websites in the world immediately vulnerable to being taken down at the whim of ‘content creators’ like NBC."

The idea that anyone at NBC would just do a google image search and throw up the result on a high-profile page as if they're updating their myspace profile is pretty mind-boggling to me. I've never worked anywhere like NBC, but I would have assumed they'd use stock image databases for most things and that they'd have strict policies for getting other images approved for use.

Not to mention that the paintbrush "A" in the background is the app store logo! Did not a single person with an iphone or mac look at this before it went out? I'm almost inclined to think that they did license the image from apple, even though that really doesn't sound like apple.

Either way, this sounds like a joke from 30 Rock :)

To me the infringement isn't that big of a deal. Infringement happens. What would be interesting is NBC's position on enforcement.

Although I honestly expect that given NBC's interest here they would be willing to have their webpage completely come down, while they fixed the infringement if they thought that it would illustrate to everyone how infringement should be handled.

I think this is much ado about nothing given that it's just about the infringement and not so much about the enforcement.

So? You're missing the point entirely. The article sums it up well: "This kind of casual copyright infringement, with no malicious intent, is exactly the kind of thing that SOPA was after."

Come on, the author of TFA covers that point explicitly.

> This kind of casual copyright infringement, with no malicious intent, is exactly the kind of thing that SOPA was after.

what? no one is blowing this out of proportion at all... no one has said some CEO knowingly went to Apple's Xcode website and stole the logo for profit. this however does illustrate perfectly how stupid the SOPA/ACTA brand of infringement enforcement is. no one was making any of the claims you said they were making, they just commented its hypocritical for NBC to be supporting strict enforcement with website takedowns and fines when they casually infringe themselves...

I really dislike posts like this that go all sanctimonious and apologetic when no one is making the outlandish attacks that you claim they are making

On a similar note: I've taken a picture back in 2007 of a notice beneath the Sony Center in Berlin:


Sony PR was unable to clear all copyrights for pictures they had used in a exhibition about the past of the building. And publicly admitted it.

> so why not just steal it?

Can we please stop using the terms "stealing" and "theft" to refer to copyright infringement?

I too wish people would stop using words properly.

steal [steel] ,verb, stole, sto·len, steal·ing, noun verb (used with object) 1. to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by force: A pickpocket stole his watch.

2. to appropriate (ideas, credit, words, etc.) without right or acknowledgment.

May I also suggest you look up the term 'colloquial.' This isn't a court room.

"1: the act of infringing : violation 2: an encroachment or trespass on a right or privilege"

Infringement on someone's property is more like trespassing than deprivation of a good.

But funnily enough, in this case it may actually be "copyright theft", which in 95% of the cases gets misused when meaning copyright infringement. Copyright theft actually means taking someone's work, and saying it's your work. And this is what NBC seems to have done.

I guess it was too subtle before. "deprivation of a good" is not a requirement for all definitions of the word 'steal' or theft when talking outside a courtroom.

>Infringement on someone's property

You mean "2. to appropriate (ideas, credit, words, etc.) without right or acknowledgment."

My god that's stealing!

>Copyright theft actually means taking someone's work, and saying it's your work

Since you're trying so hard to be pedantic, that would be plagiarism (act) and copyright infringement (legally). On the street, that is referred to as theft.

Can we please stop complaining about using the terms 'stealing' and 'theft' to refer to copyright infringement? Nothing in the discussion changes one bit because of the use of these words. Anybody that goes "well, it's theft, so it's wrong, by definition" dismisses himself from the discussion anyway. It doesn't matter that people call it 'theft'.

BTW, did you know you can steal water from the ocean?

On the contrary, I highly recommend reading JackC's explanation on "theft" vs. "copyright infringement" in terms of "alienable rights": http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3696526

I sincerely doubt that nothing would change in a discussion after an explanation like that one. Maybe if the discussion was already restricted to lawyers, nothing would change.

I don't understand your comment. You say 'on the contrary', but then link to a an explanation that I read as completely supporting my argument that this discussion is pointless and unnecessary, because either we agree the act is (il)legal under current law or the discussion is about whether the act is or should be legal. What someone uses as a shorthand to refer to the act doesn't bear upon that discussion.

I think they're talking about appropriation, as in, NBC claims that Apple's graphic is really their own. That's why it's "stealing."

If I appropriate your lawn mower, you no longer have a lawn mower. That's "stealing". If I use intellectual property that you own without your permission, that's copyright infringement, but you still possess both your property and your rights to it. That's not "stealing".

It is possible to steal IP though. If you assert ownership of an intellectual property, then your next step can be to stop the original artist from claiming royalties. An example would be the companies claiming ownership of public domain films and then getting youtube to yank the public domain versions.

So if NBC was claiming they owned the Apple artwork, its stealing because that ownership (if uncontested) allows them to collect royalties, etc.

Apple still have their logo. If Apple exces go to the graphics storage cupboard and find the logo missing and unavailable for them to use, then it might well have been "stolen".

As my boss constantly likes to point out; the law on "theft" was long ago changed from "permanently deprived" to cover information loss.

(at least in the UK, I understand the same happened in the US)

I very much doubt it. The Supreme Court declared a while ago that copyright infringement is not theft.

Thanks, that's good info.

I'm surprised. When the issue of auto-theft came up (many years ago) the ruling was very different. Legally speaking if you took a car for a spin and dumped it (back with the owner, or whatever) this was technically not theft - as there was no intent to permanently deprive the owner of the car.

I'm pretty sure they ruled it was still considered theft - off the back of similar legislation changes in the UK.

It's worth pointing out (I can't edit my previous comment) I was just responding to the one issue, and the problem is more nuanced... for example:

- The law wasn't really reconsidered to deal with copyright infringement. It was changed to deal with situations where you broke into a computer and took copies of data (interesting to note that this was not actually a new issue at the time; if you broke into someone's office and took photos of data they couldn't charge you with theft - the reason it was changed this time I am not sure on, probably just the prevailing mood).

- Quite how much the extent of information loss on a public thing like an image (for which you have to undertake no infiltration or transformative process to recover) applies is largely untested, because this stuff is broadly dealt with under copyright infringement

- The extent to which money - both loss of, and the making of (by the infringer) - comes into it is undetermined.

- This is not a new change. It happened years ago (as in at least the 90's, perhaps before).

The real bottom line is that much of our laws are inadequate in dealing with the internet. :)

But; "theft" is no longer defined, in the UK at least, as the GP indicated.

But that is the point, Apple have not lost the information - they still have their icon and can keep using it. There's a distinction between that and someone breaking into Apple's computer system and erasing all of their other copies of the icon, which would be the closest analogy to classical theft in this case.

"classical theft"?

We always complain about the fact that laws don't keep up with the modern world. So why insist that the definition of theft stays in the dark ages? :)

The analogy you bring up is more akin to vandalism in my mind. Theft, in the modern sense, means taking something that isn't yours.

(I'm not necessarily agreeing with the theory that this is theft; just putting out a data point I happen to know of)

I appreciate the appeal to what feels like common sense, but right now more than ever, the distinction between "classical theft" and replicating a series of ones and zeroes is extremely important. A war of minds is going on, and the relegation of all things copyright into the category of "theft" attempts to subtly justify any reaction to copyright infringement by making it equivalent to deprivation of property.

This is a tough topic because the word steal does have a valid semantic meaning in this context, and anyone who argues with common use of language always comes off as pedantic ('what is an iTouch? It's an iPod Touch!!!'), but its important for those of us who understand how digital media works continue to continue emphasizing the real world differences between theft and copyright infringement.

It's not theft of the digital entity, it's theft of the time and effort that went into creating the digital entity. The relevant concept is Theft Of Services.

The relevant concept is Theft Of Services

Theft of services still implies the consumption of someone else's resources. By not paying for the service, the provider faces tangible losses (because the opportunity to service a paying customer is lost). In this particular case, Apple loses absolutely nothing. The designer is still wrong (and IMO, plagiarizing copyrighted design assets merits termination), but Apple's capacity to service their customers is not hindered by this.

You got a citation for that?

Well that would be my boss; an ex-copper who was part of the working group that contributed to the new laws.

I can dig up another one if you really want :)

I'd like that.

Yes, please. Read the linked, incredibly enlightening comment (from an actual lawyer, even!) on HN some weeks back about the distinction between copyright and theft.


Murder manslaughter tomato toe mah toe.

While I don't disagree that there is some difference between illegally copying something digitally and physically taking something, the effect is so similar that getting hung up on the linguistics seems a bit silly to me.

I'm also pretty sure the background on their page is Louie Mantia's work as well. It's an older version that he's since replaced, but you can see it on this site: http://interfacelift.com/wallpaper/details/1236/blueprint.ht...

FWIW, the current version (Blueprint Neue) is here: http://mantia.me/wallpaper/blueprint/

SOPA would be great - it would mean that the owner could (and should) go to a judge and take NBC's website(s) offline. And then ask their official opinion about SOPA.

yowza that's pathetic -- they didn't even bother to efface the 'XCODE' text in the lower right, or the Apple logo on the lower left!


xcode photo was just removed, and intern probably fired. stolen background image still in use.

Still haven't removed the background wallpaper, though.

Off-topic, but that site was pretty much unreadable to me for a minute or so. At the top of the page, in a fixed-position div, there was a share button with an incrementing counter of shares.

My eye was constantly drawn to the ever-incrementing counter, but because it was fixed, I couldn't scroll past it. Bad UX.

It's particularly annoying that the counter re-runs from zero just by refreshing the page -- and yet shows the same final count each time. Is it even actually dynamic, does the counter increment in real time if there's a new share while you're on the page?

I think it actually is a live counter. I fired up HTTPFox and the page keeps sending requests to a URL containing "stream.thenextweb.fyre.co/livecountping/" - it appears to be intermittently polling for a new count, but I didn't notice it actually increment when I read the site the first time, and I'm not interested in monitoring it now to be sure.

Giving the maximum benefit of the doubt, this easily could have been a placeholder image that was missed when it was pushed into production.

The real problem is the gulf between the law and perception on what is content "theft". There are many people who wouldn't see a problem using the XCode logo for other purposes (read http://clientsfromhell.net/ for several examples of people not understanding copyright infringement).

The article seems a little overblown in its tone. We should allow NBC the same latitude we would want if one of our employee's had made the same mistake. We should also ask NBC to support legislation that would allow for education and forgiveness.

That's why you ought to put a big ugly red placeholder text on every temporary content.

Or just use a website like http://placehold.it and grab an image: http://placehold.it/256x256

It's pretty obvious then when you need to replace something before going into production.

Yep. A big, hot pink "FPO" stamped on anything w/out usage.

To test if this article is overblown, you could launch a new product with one of NBC's major logos as one of your main promotional images and then see if NBC shares your view.

Super long, condemning article that points out hyper-hypocrisy, then I get to this. We’ve reached out to Apple to see whether a licensing arrangement has been reached for this graphic…but we doubt it. So, what we have here is someone who took the time to write all of that and not even fucking fact check first. I also doubt Apple licensed their artwork, but you can't fucking post shit like this before you know for sure.

You need to relax, buddy!

Upon my most recent visit, the image is no longer there. Not just hidden, but they removed the markup and it is no longer loaded with the site. I would like to believe that this post created enough of a cease and desist to effect the takedown.

Here is the link to the original Post:


Has anything come of this? Has Apple been notified?

The last paragraph mentions this: "We’ve reached out to Apple to see whether a licensing arrangement has been reached for this graphic…but we doubt it.".

I'm probably going to get downvoted for this. FML.

The last paragraph should have been the first. Why write this piece on "stealing" and infringement when you don't even know the facts?

What about this?


Icon infringement is rampant: http://www.panic.com/extras/ripoff/


I love it when a plan comes together.

Cognitive dissonance. If you really think this justifies copyright violation of software and films you need to grow up.

Man that was a lot of words to not much purpose. The basic fact of it is funny enough, but c'mon, this has nothing to do with SOPA.

Except to point out that with SOPA, Apple could have shut down NBC's entire domain until NBC's lawyers had jumped through the requisite hoops. And that just about every web site on the internet would be just as vulnerable to be shut down by such requests due accidental infringement.

No they could not have. Certainly not in the later versions and, I think, not in the earlier versions but I couldn't swear to it.

In the later versions the site in question would have to be a non-US site (they don't need SOPA for US sites as we've seen with Megaupload) and the site would need to operate with the intent to promote copyright infringement.

Obviously that is very broad, but I don't think anyone could stretch it to one misappropriated jpeg in a site completely dedicated to something else.

Don't get me wrong, I'm completely opposed to SOPA and legislation like it, I just don't think this is relevant.

Edit: typos

Look people. We all know that SOPA sucked. Personally I called my congressman and suggested the following amendment to SOPA:

When the dept of justice (or whoever is tasked with prosecuting these sites) finds a site, they contact it and issue a invitation to participate in domestic proceedings, and the invitation is good for a certain period (30 days for example). During this time, the site can respond, realize the problem, maybe make amends or reach a settlement. If they do not respond within the time period, then they are considered in default, and US financial institutions, search engines etc. could be compelled block them. However, at any time they can start legal proceedings within the US, and try to get reinstated, until the statute of limitations runs out (a few years).

This would have introduced the proper concepts of due process (inviting them to participate and offer them an opportunity to resolve the matter before taking drastic measures), jurisdiction (only US financial companies would be compelled to stop dealing with them, and possibly search engines, etc.) And IMHO it would be a good compromise.

Finally, here is why it would work: it takes a while from a site to grow from an insignificant pirate hub (where people can download movies, etc.) to something that lots of people in the US know. Remember, the problem is only that US citizens are downloading pirated US movies & shows (which cost a lot to make) from abroad. Once lots of people in the US know how to get to it using domain X or method X, then the entertainment industry can take notice. By that time, the site has been operating for a while (probably over a year). What is another 30 days at this point. The due process should take place. The entertainment industry is presumably going after big fish, not fly by night file hosters. So there is no reason to shoot first and ask questions later.

I am probably going to get downvoted because I am talking about SOPA and saying it could work using some sort of compromise. But I try to be open minded. Those who know me know I criticize copyright, but I don't think our society is ready for a completely wikipedia-like approach to art. I have thought about the issue and in practical terms, copyright is actually quite useful as it enforces copyleft. And in fact, using copyright and copyleft, we have a competition of content creation by open groups and by proprietary interests. Which is good for society. Patents in software, on the other hand, should be abolished :)

Is that not just a piece of generic clip art that both companies could have licensed from the same source?

The whole article seems like a lot of conjecture about something only vaguely related to SOPA in order to publish a story about SOPA.

I think its important to note, even if this was some contracted company who put up the site, you would think designers would either know better, or at least have the skills to create something similar. I'm by no means a whiz with Illustrator, but I bet I could whip something up in a few hours that's similar without infringing on Apple's copyrights.

I mean hell, all you have to do is google "blueprint icon tutorial" and you get over a million hits. There is absolutely no excuse for someone doing this with such a vast amount of resources at their disposal.

So if I dug through a bunch of environmental activists' trash and found a stray recyclable would that be an indictment of mandatory recycling laws? The only thing thing interesting about this article is how easy it is to use SOPA as cheap link bait.

If the same activists were advocating laws allowing them to go through other people's garbage looking for recyclables, with disproportionate fines or the suspension of all municipal services as the penalty for violation, then yes.

You mean, Cleveland?


Government agents there are empowered to root through private citizens' trash without probable cause, to search for recyclables. Additionally they put small computers on private trash cans, to monitor their movements -- to continue the analogy: it would be as if SOPA mandated government spyware on your hard drive.

Is anyone under the impression that if SOPA had passed this example would have lead to Apple pursuing an infringement action under it against NBC Universal, who happens to be a big Apple partner, over the misappropriation of an icon? There are plenty of very good arguments against SOPA and PIPA - it's easy to find them, they were/are bad laws. But is a single example of a non-willful violation that they'll be happy to remedy one of them? Not really.

Definitely, Apple would not go after NBC for this, nor should they. But I'm incredibly uncomfortable with laws that are this open to abuse, even with the assurance that those laws are absolutely necessary and will only be used against the worst violators. Think of the DMCA, RICO laws, eminent domain.

I agree - I think no matter the intent wide open laws like these are ripe for abuse. My only point here was that nextweb was just leveraging people's dislike of SOPA to get pageviews on something that is clearly a non-issue. If you want people to behave like adults (and pass adult laws) it makes sense to keep the discourse at that level.

I'm sure we agree on the law and even on when and against whom it would be enforced. I'm not sure you would agree that there's value in pointing out to the companies advocating for a law which of their actions would technically fall outside the provisions of that law. And realistically, the value is probably only cathartic.

That's just an example of the unequal enforcement of the law. In order to avoid getting your site shut down, you'd need to be friends with the rich and powerful.

So you're suggesting that if I, friend of no one, used the Xcode icon on my website and SOPA had passed Apple would go in front of a judge to have my website removed from DNS? It seems much more likely that they would either a) ignore it or b) send me a DMCA takedown. Which sounds pretty much like the two likely outcomes of this incident as well.

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