Enforcing the Creative Commons
The Creative Commons is a good thing. It allows people near and far to share creative work. It’s easy to use, easy to follow and benefits everyone. That is, until people start acting like jerks.
A few days ago I heard about PulpFiction, a new Mac news reader. It sounded interesting so I checked out its website to learn more about it. Eventually, I ended up on the PulpFiction resources page (May 25 screenshot) and immediately noticed a tab navigation that that looked very much like my CSS Tabs. I inspected the source code and realized that the tabs did in fact use my CSS, practically line for line.
My CSS Tabs are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 1.0, which means that if anyone uses them, they must simply give me credit. However, no credit was given anywhere on the Freshly Squeezed Software website.
I contacted Freshly Squeezed Software, explained that they were using my code which was licensed under a Creative Commons license and asked them to give me credit for the code or remove the tabs from their website. Erik J. Barzeski, a developer at Freshly Squeezed, replied to my request and told me that the tabs were written and created fully on his own: he researched tabs, got an idea of how to write them, but had never visited my site before so there is no way that he could have used my CSS. He refused to give me credit in his source code or remove the tabs from his website.
His denial that he used my CSS made me compare our CSS again. If you take a look at the CSS source for CSS Tabs, you’ll see that there are six selectors and nineteen properties needed to create the tabs. In comparing Freshly Squeezed Software’s CSS with unraveled’s CSS, two of six selectors were named differently. Beyond this difference, every selector used the exact same properties in the exact same order. I don’t know much about calculating probabilities, but the chances of that happening by coincidence seem extremely low. Update: (2 June) Thanks to some mathematically inclined friends, I’ve found that there are 46,656 ways of ordering the CSS used in CSS Tabs.
After thinking through the situation, I came up with three different scenarios. Erik was:
- telling the truth and the fact that every selector used the exact same properties in the exact same order was purely coincidental.
- sincerely convinced that he hadn’t visited my site before although he did actually visit my site and use my CSS.
- outright lying. Update: (27 May) This refers to Erik lying about creating the tabs fully on his own, not lying about visiting my site. He very well may have never visited my site, as my tabs are available from several different websites, most notably Max Design’s Listamatic. However, it’s extremely unlikely that he created them fully on his own.
Now, I know Erik is smart. He writes a smart weblog and creates smart software for a smart company. So I can’t figure out how or why he would believe that he didn’t use my CSS since the chances of our CSS mirroring each other are so low. He was either lying or able to channel my CSS into his code by some act of God. I think it was the former.
Not only was he lying, but he refused to follow the terms of my Creative Commons license by giving me credit for my work. I found that upsetting for two main reasons. First, giving me credit requires almost no work. A simple “CSS based on unraveled CSS Tabs” in the source would be fine. Secondly, Erik is a developer who must understand the importance of free software to the development community. Yet he completely disregarded my Creative Commons license.
I may not be able to enforce my Creative Commons license, but I can refuse to support developers who don’t respect the work of others. If you value the Creative Commons, I ask that you do the same.