Jeff Croft

I’m a product designer in Seattle, WA. I lead Design at a stealthy startup. I recently worked at Simply Measured, and previously co-founded Lendle.

Some of my past clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and the University of Washington.

I’ve authored two books on web and interactive design and spoken at dozens of conferences around the world.

But seriously, who gives a shit?

Link // 03.31.2007 // 1:49 AM // 15 Comments

Daring Fireball: Rip This Joint

I mostly agree with what Gruber has to say in a response to criticism over his defense of Apple’s Hello TV spot. And, it’s well-written, as you’d expect from John.

Tangentially, I think one of the points of confusion over all this rip-off-or-not business is that there’s a world of difference between the law and the morals of individual creative people.

Creative people, and especially web designers, have gotten up in arms a lot lately over things the law would laugh at. What you call a rip-off often would not be seen as any kind of wrongdoing in copyright or trademark court. Copyright doesn’t protect ideas at all, and trademark is pretty lenient about logos and other marks that “look pretty similar.” So just because you’re upset that someone has a logo that looks like yours doesn’t give you any legal ground for focing them to cease and desist (you have the right to ask, of course, but they have the right to ignore you, too).

So next time you’re upset because someone has appropriated your idea or design, maybe think twice before saying, “you’ve stolen my intellectual property.” Because, more often than not, you don’t know the law well enough to know if that’s really true (I certainly don’t!). Instead, say what you do know: “I think you got this idea from my original work and I feel cheated that you used it without my permission.”

In the case of Apple’s Hello ad specifically: there’s absolutely no way it is copyright infringement in the legal sense. But is it a rip-off? Definitely. Is ripping something off without breaking the law morally wrong?

Well, that’s for you to decide. Everyone’s morals are different.

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Comments

  1. 001 // Stephen // 03.31.2007 // 4:31 PM

    I agree that most people don’t understand that there is no copyright in ideas; but I also think it worth pointing out that many creative people don’t seem to acknowledge the role of inspiration by other works in creativity: perhaps because they are in denial about it. But the fact is that no-one creates in a vacuum. Everyone is inspired by other stuff that they have seen or heard. If you haven’t read a few hundred novels, you’re not going to be able to write a very good novel. It’s essential to know what other people have already achieved in order to move forward.

    And then there’s the whole issue of homage and referencing classic works. Is Tarantino ripping off all the films he references in his works?

    Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.

  2. 002 // Pete Hindle // 03.31.2007 // 4:45 PM

    Some artists are fine with using their art in the commercial realm. Others reserve their creations for more specific audiences. The point that both yourself and Gruber have elegantly passed over is the fact that Marclay turned down an opportunity to show his work during the Superbowl adverts, because he is not interested in being part of that market.

    The film that was shown by Apple is not a homage, nor does it borrow from Marclay’s work. It is a facsimile, like a cheap watch brought at a market store, that fools the uneducated eye. This is the very sort of thing that intellectual property was created to fight - specifically, copies of Hogarth’s series of prints ‘The Rakes Progress’ being copied and sold, without crediting the artist. It must be seen as ironic that the situation continues in the present day.

  3. 003 // Bram Pitoyo // 03.31.2007 // 5:24 PM

    True enough. Without taking sides, I will say that ideas don’t know who their parents are (your own conscience, however, do), so the “Hello” spot may have in fact be inspired by another scene that has been used in the past, which could, in turn, be inspired by yet a similar scene from the past, ad infinitum.

  4. 004 // Jeff Croft // 03.31.2007 // 6:25 PM

    The point that both yourself and Gruber have elegantly passed over is the fact that Marclay turned down an opportunity to show his work during the Superbowl adverts, because he is not interested in being part of that market.

    I didn’t pass over that point, and neither did Gruber. Guber said, “Rip-off or not, if Marclay didn’t want Apple to use the idea, they shouldn’t have used it. Not because it was wrong, but because Apple can do better.”

    My point is that just because Marclay didn’t want to to use the idea doesn’t make it illegal for them to do it anyway. That’s precisely what I’m getting at here. There’s a difference between wrong and illegal. I think it was wrong of Apple to use the idea after Marclay asked them not to. But, that’s based on my own personal morals, which is an entirely different world than the law — and apparently, a different world than Apple’s morals, as well.

  5. 005 // Pete Hindle // 03.31.2007 // 8:57 PM

    Hmm, that’s true… and I seem to have some egg on my face.

  6. 006 // Jeff Croft // 03.31.2007 // 9:13 PM

    Hah. No worries. :)

  7. 007 // Phil Aaronson // 03.31.2007 // 10:11 PM

    Playing devil’s advocate for a moment. One could argue that had Apple run an ad they felt was second best would be crossing a legal line governing public corporations and their behavior.

  8. 008 // Mark // 03.31.2007 // 10:23 PM

    Design patents are there if you really want more protection for your work (for ten years). Apple gets them all the time for icons and the like.

    But as you say, copyright only applies to a creative expression.

    What surprises me is that more artists don’t support the idea that we might not be better off with no copyright at all. Things just keep getting more and more restrictive, as the U.S. caves in more and more to European concepts of copyright (god help us if “moral rights” reaches these shores).

    It used to be 26 years, if you properly gave notice, and another 26 if you remembered to renew, then hello public domain. Publishers knew what they could use and what they couldn’t, because there was a date there to look at, and if there wasn’t, defective notice and public domain, hooray!

  9. 009 // Paul D. // 04.01.2007 // 12:15 AM

    What surprises me is that more artists don’t support the idea that we might not be better off with no copyright at all.”

    I do. As a small and independent designer, these laws hold me back in a myriad of ways and do nothing for me. I know copyright is regarded as some kind of Holy Edict from the Almighty for some people, but I’m a heretic.

    Anyway, with all this talk of designers trying to figure out whether they’ve been “ripped off” or not, I think another aspect has been overlooked. When LogoMaid copies someone’s logo and sells it to customers as an original work, it’s LogoMaid’s customers who are really getting ripped off in my view. They paid for something original, and they’re getting an imitation. For this reason alone, it’s good to call people out on these scams.

    One last note regarding one of Jeff’s remarks: “Is ripping something off without breaking the law morally wrong?”

    The law has nothing to do with whether something moral or not; but cheating your customer is always wrong, whether illegal or not.

  10. 010 // John Zeratsky // 04.01.2007 // 1:11 AM

    RE: “The law has nothing to do with whether something moral or not.”

    Kind of a side point, but yeah, laws have a lot to do with morals. Most of our laws are based on a broad and generalized understanding of what people consider to be right and wrong. Laws don’t always reflect that understanding in practice (e.g. the DCMA), but that’s the goal.

  11. 011 // James John Malcolm // 04.01.2007 // 6:12 AM

    Love your new logo Jeff :)

  12. 012 // Jeff Croft // 04.01.2007 // 12:28 PM

    Kind of a side point, but yeah, laws have a lot to do with morals. Most of our laws are based on a broad and generalized understanding of what people consider to be right and wrong.

    That’s true, John. Perhaps I should have said, “The law may not have anything to do with your personal morals.”

  13. 013 // John Zeratsky // 04.01.2007 // 1:26 PM

    Right on, Jeff. But it’s also the case that sub-cultural groups (like, say, web designers) have a shared set of morals (i.e. ethics) that also may or may not have anything to do with the law.

    I think the widely varying responses to “rip-offs” among members of this community is a sign that we haven’t developed a set of shared morals just yet.

  14. 014 // diskgrinder // 04.01.2007 // 4:14 PM

    It’s not a very clever idea; and this storm in an espresso thimble just panders to the egos of bad-breathed art film bores.

    Saying this is “immoral” robs the word of it’s power. Immorality is not about the theft of a fairly obvious gimmick from an art prick by an advertising prick. This whole hoo-har smacks of snobbery.

  15. 015 // leodavinci // 04.01.2007 // 11:30 PM

    Diskgrinder said it perfectly.

    Don’t confuse morality with a particular opinion (whether it’s yours or someone else’s) on what is right or wrong.

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