Technically Legal

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Copyright Infringement In Action

About 9 PM EDT on Sunday the 13th, Wil Shipley, developer of Delicious Library, tweeted that an application on the iTunes App store had stolen his copyrighted images.

Wil was talking about the woodgrain background that is a prominent feature of Delicious Library. As the story progressed he found yet another application that had just taken his copyrighted .png files from his desktop app and reused them in iPhone apps.

What followed was a rather extended discussion with his fans about what he could actually do. In cases like this, cost of litigation is always weighed against potential returns.

Wil tweeted:

And at best I’d maybe get an injunction, not damages. And, really, they’re not making enough money for me to regain my losses.

He makes a good point. Even if he had registered a copyright on the images (the only way to get statutory damages, as opposed to actual damages), the company that was using his images probably did not have enough assets for him to recover whatever judgment he could win. And even if the company had money, that would all be sunk into lawyers before Wil saw a dime.

So, what’s an independent developer to do?

So I’m going to call them thieves publicly and embarrass them. Skip the lawyers, let’s go back to shaming people!

The strategy was effective. Eight hours after that last tweet, Wil posted this update:

Stolen images update: Tom from Netwalk apologized, said he didn’t know it was my texture, promised a resubmitted “MyMovies” update tonight!

There are really two important take-away messages from this story.

  1. Copying an image from someone computer’s program and using it in your own can constitute copyright infringement. If the owner of the image has registered that copyright, it can open you up to RIAA v. The People sized damages: thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per infringement. If you are selling the images, it could expose you up to jail time.
  2. There are ways other than the courts to resolve copyright disputes that leave both parties happy. Here, Wil was happy that people stopped using his intellectual property, and the people who took his images were no doubt happy that he won’t be filing suit, as he very well could do.

And, yes, these tweets were reproduced with permission.

Posted in: Analysis by Ben Snitkoff.

32 Comments on “Copyright Infringement In Action”

  1. Eric Crist says:

    You didn’t need permission to repost his tweets. This would be considered fair use.

  2. Non Infringing says:

    You don’t need his permission to reproduce Tweets for the purposes of a “news story”. That falls under fair use, correct?

  3. me says:

    Yeah, I want to see him get a wood-grain pattern through a court case…

  4. Jon says:

    This reminds me of something that happened back in the late 90’s. A good friend of mine had a web site (not cheap back then), and another webmaster decided to hotlink images from his site so they showed up on their own web site.

    When my friend discovered this in the logs, he went to the offending web site and saw that it was a “Jewish” themed web site.

    So he replaced all of the hotlinked images with images of Nazi flags.

    I’m not saying that was the best approach to take–I certainly wouldn’t have had the guts to do that myself–but it worked. They stopped hotlinking the images almost immediately.

  5. Ben Snitkoff says:

    So, yes, use of his tweets was probably fair use.
    (1) I was using them in a news story,
    (2) I only used a few tweets (but I used them in whole), and;
    (3) they were mixed with commentary.

    That being said, I knew I was going to get permission to use them, and it doesn’t hurt to (1) get permission if you can, and (2) warn the person that you’re going to write a story about it.

    • Chuck says:

      Really, permission should always be requested. Fair use is a DEFENSE to infringement. You still get sued and then can make the defense. Best to ask permission and give credit as you ahve done.

      • Jamie says:

        True, but to split hairs about it, getting permission is a defense, too. You could still get sued. 😉

        • RonK says:

          And your point is one of the really weak points of copyright law which should be redone; there should be stiff fines (or even criminal penalties) for maliciously misusing the court system.

          Actually, there probably already are such laws, for example the clause in the copyright laws that abusing your copyright negates your rights (but only for that particular copyrighted work, I think) but they get invoked so rarely that they are not taken into consideration by plaintiffs.

  6. […] V­ie­w orig­in­al­ pos­t he­re­: Te­chn­ically­ Le­g­al » B­log­ Archiv­e­ » Copy&#173… […]

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ray Beckerman and Technically Legal. Technically Legal said: Indie Developer @wilshipley goes after copyright infringers the old fashioned way: […]

  8. bob smith says:

    This is as silly and petty as Apple and the shiny buttons. If anything he should be flattered that they are copying his UI design. Rather than litigate why not put energy into something positive like developing even better apps?

    • “If anything he should be flattered that they are copying his UI design.”

      He had to pay someone to create that image.

      “Rather than litigate why not put energy into something positive like developing even better apps?”

      Because calling them out took soooo much energy.

  9. Arancaytar says:

    > If anything he should be flattered that they are
    > copying his UI design

    This is false.

    By “flattered” you refer to a value the creator gains from having their work republished. This recognition cannot exist unless he is explicitly and publically acknowledged as the creator. Without that, it goes (ethically) from copyright into plagiarism territory, regardless of the economic aspects – nobody is flattered by being copied without being credited.

    Even with acknowledgements, and with no economic loss, the polite thing to do is to ask for permission.

    Obligatory Car Analogy: “Angry because I cut you off? If anything, you should be flattered I thought highly enough of you to assume you would let me pass.” Nah.

  10. Will Nickerson says:

    I can’t believe anyone would be lame enough to worry about a stupid texture.

    • Stephen says:

      It’s not lame – creating all of the images needed for an App is a serious expense of either time or money. There are plenty of other ways to get images online using royalty free sites if people can’t create their own but Google Images has made it so easy to steal someone else’s work that many people just do it. Remember, this is commercial use by someone trying to make money – not some kid decorating a personal site on FaceBook.

      • cak says:

        Yeah, really? It is lame, it is a tiny deal, you guys get upset over anything. So what if they use a different texture, to the majority it will still look exactly the same.

        You people have too much time on your hands.

  11. cak says:

    Oh yeah, someone stole his wood grain. Big deal. Get over it you pretentious princess. Free wood grain textures are all over the net, it must have taken him 10 seconds to do, and he is making a big deal about this.

    What a joke. You people think you can copyright anything, and get money for the rest of your lives. While the rest of us get paid for work we do, not for the everytime some one looks at it.

  12. cak says:

    Yeah, and where did he get this image from:


    Apple should go after him for stealing their precious art pieces.

    A fool and a hypocrite. Oh, I guess it is ok from him to use other peoples images.

  13. Romulus says:

    No wonder lawyers are so damn rich in USA…you fairies will sue for anything! A woodgrain image….for goodness sake. Get a damn life will you!!!

  14. Pierce says:

    Naming and shaming is also not the way, why not privately contact them first then do that?

    Also as people suggested trying to get a wood grain pattern through court would be pretty difficult.

    I agree though that people should credit the sources of where they took things from.

  15. Seriously... says:

    This nitpicking is so pathetic I don’t even know where to start, seriously now, there are photoshop filters that can automatically generate wood grain textures, sure they should’ve given credit for what they ““““““stole””””””, but at the same time the second party involved shouldn’t go batshit over something so irrelevant… People have worries nowadays, seriously… Spend your time on something more creative or useful.

    PS: Someone very famous once said that it’s only true art if it gets copied.

  16. dr. memals says:

    and rather than shaming them he could of emailed them. at least one did not know(claims) the image was not RF

  17. Hunter says:

    “And, really, they’re not making enough money for me to regain my losses.”

    What kind of losses is he talking about? Given the conclusion of the story, Tom’s apology has the same monetary value as Wil’s losses.

  18. Jesper Sommer says:

    You have to stop seein this as an issue regarding a wooden background. Because when you try to reduce it to that, you are also saying that is “ok” to steal simple things but still not ok to steal complex things (like the entire application). The legal system cannot function with such fluid orders. Either it is ok to take (“steal”) someones intellectual property, or not. You can’t have it both ways.

    In this case it’s really quite simple. Someone stole a piece of intellectual property and used the stolen goods to make a profit. That is illegal – and in my opinion it should be. It doesen’n matter hos simple or complex the stolen IP is. Really!

    In addition I am pretty sure that the background has taken many hours to perfect. And the stolen icons (which nobody seems to discuss?) propably took even longer. Making nice looking graphics in the space of 32×32 pixels is extremely hard and time consuming.

    Who cares if it was stolen pixels or stolen programming code? The owner worked hard to create it and he owns the result.

    Yes. It really IS that simple!

    • cak says:

      Yes, stealing a grape from the fruit section of your supermarket is the same as stealing weapon grade Uranium, wake up sheeple.

      No, it is not the same. Yes, we need to take into consideration about what is being “stolen”. **** you and your IP, IP is such a waste anyway. I am sure you love living in the world where you own IP, what a great world that is.

      • Jesper Sommer says:

        Frankly I am surprised that your foul language and insults got pass the moderation.

        Your example with uranium or grapes is as irrelevant as it is nonsensical. Nobody suggested to punish the piracy in question with the same punishment as for terrorists who steal weapons grade plutonium. The punishment should fit the crime – sure. Who said anything else? Did anybody suggest treating the software pirates in this case in the same way as the US military treats Al Qaida? Who the hell are you even making that comparison???

        And yes, I live in an IP world. I develop software. I get paid for that. And my salary depends on a business model where customers actually pay for the work I provide to them.

        Do you work for free yourself? If yes, I have a job or you. Throw me a note and I will get you on the team. We promise not to clutter your life with evil money … only … drop the profanity and attitude. I get enough of that from my kids.

  19. Mike says:

    You’re bent out of shape because someone copied a woodgrain texture? This is so far beyond “pathetic” that words fail me. I mean really, it’s pretty easy to make a woodgrain texture far better than that the one you’re having kittens over:

    A nice, 5-minute PhotoShop tutorial:

    And here’s a free Windows program for making very nice, hi-rez wood textures:

    • Cool! Since I don’t have Photoshop or Windows, would you mind sending me nice looking woodgrain images to the specifications I provide?

      The first one I need is a pine texture that’s 811×113 pixels. It should look good when repeated horizontally.

      That’s just the first one. After a few iterations, we’ll get one that’s nice and we can move on to the next size.

      Of course, I expect this free. And I’ll also need a free license to use it how I feel fit.

  20. Johno says:

    I think some of you are confused (not uncommon). The person didn’t steal the woodgrain background idea, they stole the exact background image from the Delicious Library App! That is pretty lame, and I don’t think Wil Shilpley got anywhere near “bent out of shape”, but merely called the guy out. Good for him. It was probably fun!

  21. Name (required) says:

    @Mike (19), if it’s that easy, you wouldn’t need a nice 5-minute Photoshop tutorial or a free Windows program. If it’s that easy, the infringers should have made it themselves.

  22. mvario says:

    It’s a sad day when the whole “copyright” that Madison invested so much time in convincing Jefferson that maybe it was a good idea for the public welfare is even an issue with a little bitmap of some woodgrain. Somehow I don’t think this is what those folks envisioned. We should probably scrap the whole thing as most of the time it isn’t used for its intended purpose.

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