I was a bit surprised today when I saw a comment on my earlier post about using 37Signals as a template for the redesign of the website for the ebook Forget The Parachute, Let Me Fly the Plane. The copy was from Jason Friel, over at 37Signals:
"Thanks for the kind words about our book, but you can't steal the design of our site for your own purposes.
Our designs, like the words in our book (or the words in your book) are protected by copyright. Stealing someone's design is like stealing someone's words: It's plagiarism and it's illegal.
Please change the design of the site within 72 hours to your own original design."
I'm actually a little surprised - "plagiarist" is a word that isn't thrown around lightly, and I'm more than a little disturbed by it. As long as I've been in technology, the ethic has been to look at what other designers do and learn from it, copy the good ideas, and move toward something even better.
I intentionally gave 37Signals credit for the inspiration here because I respect their work, their ethic, and their thoughts on design. And I believe in giving credit where credit is due. One of my readers accused me of being "a little too honest" in my previous post. But, at the same time as I'm trying to sell the book, I'm also using the experience of doing something completely online as a learning experience.
Using their work as a basis for my own future improvements wasn't meant to be construed as "plagiarism". Never did I consider that a site that doesn't walk on their trade-dress or their trademarks would be something that they'd jump on. Call it a learning experience.
In an email discussion, Jason said: "Our designs aren't templates for the public domain." I can understand that, of course, and my goal wasn't to take their templates directly - only to move from where I was to the beginning of something new.
To that end, I have replaced the site with the old version until I can make further edits and improvements that can't be construed as copyright infringement.