≡ Menu

Fleshbot, CSS and copyright

There’s a bit of a spat going on over the design of Gawker Media’s Fleshbot. To cut a long story short, Noel Jackson gave Nick Denton a clean CSS version of the site design, for free. Gratis. No cash involved. Noel then got a bit annoyed that Gawker used the style sheet, without telling him and without his permission, on its other sites. Nick then posts IM transcripts showing that it was, in fact, a gift and therefore his to do with as he pleased. End of story. Noel comes over as a bit naive, and Nick as well within his rights.
Except that, as far as I can see, he isn’t close to being within his rights. One of the oblligations of being an editor was learning all about copyright, its uses and abuses, which means I have a pretty good working grasp of how it works. And Gawker is, in my opinion, jumping headlong into a potential lawsuit.
Why? Because in UK law, if there’s no explicit contract, copyright is assigned only for “first use”. For example, I write a piece for Joe Bloggs with no contract. Bloggs has the right to publish it first, but after that the copyright is mine to do with as I please, and if Bloggs wants to use it again it has to ask me again – and that means that Bloggs can’t legally publish it in any other medium, without my permission. What applies to writing applies equally to code.
In this case, “first use” was pretty clearly for Fleshbot, and any use beyond that is subject to Jackson’s permission as the copyright holder. Also note that as the author, Jackson has a moral right to be identified as the author and as the copyright holder. And, importantly, he has the moral right to agree to any changes that are made to it (exceptions to this are newspapers and magazines, but not as far as I can see, code).

Comments on this entry are closed.

Next post:

Previous post: