Protecting your Work
"I spent a lot of time and resources developing my web site,
creating graphics, adding some special unique effects and more.
Shortly after I posted and announced it to the world I discovered
that many people were taking my ideas and code and using them on
their web sites."
"This code represented a significant effort on my part to
showcase and illustrate my skills. How can I protect it from copycats
that would pass it off for their own work and dilute its value?"
This type of question and concern is very common on web design
newsgroups and mail lists. New users often expect to get an answer
about a special code, switch or encryption method that can be used.
More experienced users know that there is no such thing but are
constantly looking for some trick or idea that will work anyway.
There is also a large body of people that question the desire to
hide your code. "...the World Wide Web was built upon the concept
of open standards. Its success to a very large extent can be directly
attributed to its openness and free transfer of ideas.
Any attempt to restrict the openness is contradictory to that concept
and would if successful, ultimately result in its degradation and
usefulness. Besides, we dare anyone to show us a unique web site
that to a substantial extent did not borrow ideas and code from
some other existing source..."
So who is right and what can be done about it in either
Here is this week's analogy. Imagine building the largest and best-equipped
market town in the province. In order to protect the shoppers and
merchants from thieves you hire a large police force to keep them
out. But the police do not know who the thieves are or believe (probably
correctly) that there is a little bit of larceny in all of us and
consequently keep everyone out.
The market town of course starts to decay so the police are dispensed
with. Pretty soon the market starts to flourish which of course
attracts thieves that start to rob everyone blind. The merchants
and shoppers stop going to the market town or if they do, they leave
their most valuable goods at home.
As with most things people have a tendency to paint their views
in black and white. This is especially true of the Web were many
people still have an idealistic view or an unnatural fear of it.
So just how much of a problem is the Web's openness?
The first thing to recognize is that it is a problem. Not necessarily
because a lot of good ideas and hard work are being taken but because
a lot of people perceive it to be a problem. If someone believes
that their work and effort will probably be stolen then they are
far less likely to put as much time an effort into it.
The majority of people designing web sites probably overstate the
problem. The level of concern should relate to the true cost of
having someone copy or use your work. Will it result in a direct
monetary loss to you or is it related more to your pride? The fact
is you probably did borrow many ideas and code from someplace else
no matter how many unique ideas you have added.
There are many cases however, where taking somebody's work will
result in a direct monetary loss to them. An artist posting his
or her work may be dependent upon its sale to make a living. At
this extreme case, Napster and MP3.com were not sued by the music
industry for pride. There are big bucks involved.
An interesting example of this was recently posted on an SVG mail
list where a cartography company (map maker) wanted to post their
maps using SVG. They were concerned that since SVG is vector based
there would be nothing to stop anyone from taking the information
from the maps and producing their own. Maps are all about resolution
and SVG vectors have it all. For them the ability to post their
maps online means fast, reliable, low-cost distribution. It also
means that there is nothing to stop anyone from stealing it.
What about copyright?
Copyright law protects everyone's intellectual property as soon
as they create it. You do not even need to register it. This newsletter
for example, is copyright protected even without the little copyright
notice that is included. So are your web pages. If someone copies
and pastes the code from your web page to theirs without your permission
you have every right to sue them.
But how practical is that?
I'm not a lawyer so this is a non-legal observation. (Unless you
can demonstrate a significant monetary loss it will probably be
an expensive exercise. Lawyers and courts cost money and are time
consuming. If you are a company protecting a trademark or if the
copyright infringement results in a demonstrable financial loss
it may be worth your while. If you think that someone has copied
your family web-page design, it may not be worth the effort.) End
Even if the copyright infringement does represent a significant
loss for you, it may be impossible to prove. In the case of a map
the value is in the coordinates. Unlike a song being downloaded
from Napster, the source of a set of coordinates may be difficult
By far the best solution is to prevent the theft in the first place.
But that of course is when the openness of the web becomes a problem.
What can you do to protect your work if you truly believe it should
About the Author
Source: "IMS Web
Tips" is a weekly news letter for all web site managers regardless
of experience who are looking for detailed information on creating,
maintaining and promoting their web sites.