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.