How much content needds to be changed to avoid copyright issues?


I have heard that something must be changed by a factor of at least 20% to avoid any copyright infringement issues.

Does anyone know if this is true or not?

My question isn’t about text or image content. Rather, it’s about the actual layout of a site, names of links, color scheme, etc.

Any advice is greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance :slight_smile:

That is so false that it is idiculous. Who is spreading such garbage?

The minimum you need to change something to avoid copyright issues is 100%.

If any of your content is copied without permission from somewhere that is subject to copyright then you have stolen that content.

Ok. Thanks for your help and for clearing up the myth about the 20%.

But does that rule apply to the names of pages and links, also? If it did, then everyone with a navigation link that read “Home” for the anchor would be violating copyright.

Same with colors and general layout.

That’s why originally said:

A “home” link is not protected by copyright in the first place.

The entire webpage design as a single work is.

Individual, original graphics used on the page are protected.

Any sufficiently long piece of text to be considered original and creative is protected.

Layout as a concept is not protected by copyright. You can’t copyright positioning of a navigation bar at the top of a page, or the names of a hierarchy of links. See Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation. Menus and descriptive link names are obvious ideas, not original, creative expressions.

You still can’t copy any of the actual CSS or HTML from a web page in order to create a page with the same appearance.

What you need to do is to study their CSS to see how they created the effect you want and then clost their web page. You then write your own CSS to create the effect you want. While your CSS may include code that does things the same way as the other page does you have written it yourself rather than copying it from that other page. There may be pieces of it that look similar since it is creating a similar effect but none of the actual code was copied - only the idea for the particular effect.

In response to the OP’s question, there is no limit as to what you can copy design wise, though it’s highly unethical and frowned upon to do so. An exception to this rule would be if you were copying a trademarked brands website in order to impersonate them through the website design. :slight_smile:

Making some myths there yourself felgall, the code used to produce a website design is not protected by copyright. Content, graphics, media and even a web application (as a completed work) can be considered as copyrighted material but you cannot copyright a method of implementing code (such as a mixture of HTML and CSS), if that were true then I would claim copyright on dropdown navigation menus and start demanding royalties from half the worlds websites. When it comes to website designs you can legally replicate it (apart from content and attached media)… though it should be pointed out that it’s not ethical and an exception to this rule would include a functionable component such as Flash or a JavaScript library like jQuery as they are a “work” upon themselves. :slight_smile:

PS: For clarification IANAL but I know from reading past cases that website design copyright claims have been thrown out of court.

This isn’t correct. The US copyright office even says so right in their bulletin “Copyright Registration for Online Works”.

If your HTML for a navigation menu is original enough to be non-obvious, then it is protected.

Copyright is the basic law behind the illegality of software piracy. There is no legal distinction dependent upon which programming language is used.

Basically it comes down to whether you actually copied the code or just happened to end up with near identical code because you are trying to do something that is almost identical. Even though the exact method of achieving a particular result may require particular CSS to be used there will still be differences in the exact order that the code appears and in naming of the classes that the effect uses.

While it may be difficult to prove that you copied code, rearranged a few properties and renamed a few classes rather than ending up with the same result yourself writing from scratch you’d have a hard time proving that you didn’t steal the code if the code is non-trivial and completely identical to the other site right down to the particular ordering of properties and weird naming used for the classes.

With languages like CSS and JavaScript individual trivial effects usually only require a few lines of code. So those few lines of code to produce the given effect can’t be covered by copyright because they are the standard way that everyone uses to get that effect. It is a completely different matter if you have hundreds of lines of non-trivial code all of which is identical as there the breach of copyright is obvious. The grey area in between is where you have perhaps a dozen lines of code where it is a small enough section for the duplication of code to have occurred by chance even though there are a few different ways that it could be coded. Just where the line is could depend on what evidence is available for independent development if the case were to go to court. The way to reduce the possibility of being accused of stealing someone’s code is to make sure that you write your own from scratch yourself. That way even if you were studying their code a few minutes earlier in order to copy some of their ideas you will still have your own implementation of those ideas and just the fact that you wrote yours without looking at theirs should introduce enough differences to reduce the chance that you will be accused of stealing their copyrighted code. The more difference there is between their code and yours the less likely that they can accuse you of theft and so including any of their code in yours at the start puts you at a disadvantage as it increases the likelihood of your ending up with something similar enough for them to be able to satisfy a court that you had copied it from them instead of writing it yourself.

The ideal situation is where the similarities between your code and theirs are obviously there due to a similarity in the effect being created and is a lot less than the similarity between your code for creating that effect and your code for creating other effects. That way an independent person can see that your solution is written your way.

It’s perhaps a little more obvious with JavaScript than it is with CSS but if you copy an idea for a particular script and then write it your way using the same functions you wrote to perform the same tasks for other scripts that you have written then it is obviously your script despite the similarity in the end result whereas if the functions are similar to the ones in the other person’s script and totally different from the functions you have used to perform the same task elsewhere then it’s obvious that you copied their script even if you have made minor changes. The same goes in CSS (although in a slightly different way due to it being a different type of language. There are coding experts around who given several samples of your work and several samples of the work of the person whose work you are supposed to have stolen who would be able to tell just by comparison between the samples as to whether you wrote your version or whether you copied theirs and then modified it slightly to try to conceal the theft.

I still find it hard to believe that design on the web could be considered unique enough (as far as HTML and CSS goes - for the design) to qualify under copyright. The languages are limited enough that there is only a select number of combinations we can use and those combinations are further reduced because most designers fall upon conventions and patterns for specific implementations in order to maintain a websites usability. For example while a totally unique navigation method would be protected, who is going to use something so unique that it defies what the average user is going to understand, most common forms of navigation have already been well established and used widely which omits them from being protected. Another worry I have in that case is if you are claiming copyright on the design and it makes use of libraries or common conventions of code not protected (or owned by someone else) you are effectively claiming ownership of a design which has elements not owned by you and not fit for licensing, arguably that would degrade the value of the copyright on the design itself. Granted the US copyright office does state online works are protected (and that’s fine) but I haven’t seen any legal presidence to show that it would stand up in court that someone could be held liable for the copying of a design (rather than it’s contents or media), perhaps you have some examples? :slight_smile:

Just changing the order of a few of the statements where order doesn’t matter, rearranging properties into a different order, and using slightly different id and class names would be sufficient to permit thousands of different ways to write the CSS to produce any one specific layout. So if two people were to create the exact same layout you’d expect there to be some differences in their CSS.

I would expect that ought to be enough to permit copyright to apply to a given arrangement although I agree with you that such things still haven’t been fully tested as to whether it actually does or not.