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June 06, 2008


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The "or concepts" is even worse because then we're talking patents and not just copyright.

Josh Delsman

I remember asking 37signals for permission to use some of their javascript on Voxxit Hosting's web hosting plan page. Jason was pretty stern in his statement:

"Hi Joshua-

Thanks for getting in touch.

Our Javascript on our marketing site is not public domain, sorry.
Thanks for asking permission, but we can't grant permission.


So, I took the general concept, and created it myself using jQuery and CSS. They really shouldn't be surprised that their "concepts" will be copied. They create great UIs! Half of the RoR apps out there use their concepts. How can they possibly keep track?

Josh Goebel

"Half of the RoR apps out there use their concepts"

And perhaps a lot of apps out there using their terms of service as well... :-) Unless they got it from another source as well...

Chas Grundy

I'm no lawyer, but I'd chalk this up to defensive posturing. Lots of companies make ridiculous intellectual property claims (legal statements at the end of emails, for instance). It's not because they have a leg to stand on. It's simply to ward off evil spirits that might poach content and would be scared by such threats.

Can you copyright a design? Sure. Is it going to be easy to defend? Not likely. So where does "look and feel" fit? How about HTML or CSS? It's something of a moot point because ultimately, it's not an easy case to make and the costs outweigh the benefits.

Josh Goebel

I understand the "defensive posturing" argument, but 37signals says on their own blog they e-mail someone "stealing" their look at feel "roughly once each week"... that is a pretty big deal if they are totally misrepresenting copyright law - which is my view after reading and discussing the facts here on my blog.

It's one thing to make ridiculous claims, but another to follow them up with one e-mail every week (to various "rip offs") and then threaten (or pursue) legal action (they say 1% of the time) if your e-mails fail to have the desired effect.

Jay Shepherd

An interesting tangent to this is to review the landmark Fox Software / Ashton-Tate lawsuit from the late 1980s. In summary, Ashton-Tate sued Fox Software for "look and feel" infringement. In this case, it led to the realization that even Ashton-Tate didn't "own" theirs because they derived it from somewhere else (JPL) originally.

Kevin Milden

You can't copyright look and feel. You can't copyright essence, nuance or style. We designed shoes that were knocked off perfectly by Banana Republic, Steve Madden, and Tusubo. Did we wine about it. Nope. We just knew we had something special. If they don't emulate you then you should be concerned. It means it is not working. If they are then you have to lead them like Apple does. if you cry out "Stop coping me." It is like saying uncle. Your audience will even turn on you. It is time to toughen up butter-cup and show us what you are really made of when you have fierce competition biting at your heels.


Well, Coca-Cola have trademarked their bottle design, and ANZ have trademarked their blue colour.

I don't think you can copyright "look and feel", however I believe you can and should trademark "look and feel" elements distinctive to your business, i.e the iPod click wheel

Josh Goebel

I also think look and feel may be patentable... and we never really discussed trademarks in this series. I kind of skipped over them because in everything I've read 37signals is resting their case on copyright... not patents or trademarks.

I don't know what I think about someone trademarking a color though. Sounds ridiculous to me.

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