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Why You Don’t Mess with Another Man’s Work

Knife

If you’ve been around here for the last month or so, then you probably know that I am the architect of the Cutline Theme for WordPress. Also, you might have gotten the notion that I take a lot of pride in my work…

Which is why it should come as no surprise that I would be positively incensed to find out that someone has blatantly ripped off my work and passed it off as his own. Sound ridiculous? It gets worse.

Taking someone else’s work, modifying it slightly, and then claiming that you “created” it is stealing.

The guy who ripped off my work is stealing, plain and simple 1. Here’s what he says:

…The theme you’re looking at now is my very own and I actually like it ravenously. That means I’d eat it. I call it Cleanline.

Cleanline? Are you kidding me? To be honest, the first time I read that, I did a double-take. My thoughts?

“Could anyone really be that stupid?” 2

Apparently so, and now I feel the need to explain myself so that others will understand exactly why it’s so terrible to do what this jerk has done.

Where My Passion Meets the Pavement

There are only three “living” projects in which I retain ownership — Pearsonified, Tubetorial, and Cutline. I can say without hesitation that I put everything I have into my production on all of these sites, and the pride that I have in them is merely reflective of the hard work that I have put into them.

I love Cutline.

I believe so strongly in the project and in the idea of open source development that I made it free to the public (with a Creative Commons Attribution–ShareAlike 2.5 License). On top of that, I continually update the theme and provide ongoing support at the Cutline demo site. The response has been amazing, and I am eternally grateful to everyone who uses the theme and respects what I created.

I am even more grateful to those of you out there who recognize the little details that I pored over at 2 am in an attempt to set Cutline apart from the crowd.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for using the theme and supporting me.

But, here’s the deal.

Ultimately, Cutline is my baby. I built it from scratch, beginning with Photoshop mockups and ending with hours spent developing and refining XHTML and CSS.

I literally crafted every pixel and every bit of code in the theme. There’s not a single detail I didn’t attend to, and I could sit here and tell you every little thing there is to know about every aspect of Cutline.

And this is precisely why I am so angered — so absolutely livid — over the fact that someone would have the nerve to take my baby (which I give away for free!) and claim it as his own.

It’s like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa and saying, “Hey, check out my masterpiece. Yup, just painted ‘er on a blank canvas, I did!”

And I guess you could follow that up by saying that you “like her ravenously.”

The Bottom Line

Fortunately, at its core, the blogosphere is still very much an organic medium. Philanthropy and goodwill tend to be rewarded, and dishonesty and deceit are generally squashed (quite fervently, in some cases).

When people read things as ridiculous as this:

If you like it, let me know, for while it is not currently available for public consumption I’m toying with the idea of making it so. The feedback will determine.

They tend to take offense. And when you take it this far:

The main reason it’s not yet available is that it will require some more tweaking before it goes public. Otherwise, I know you PHP, XHTML and CSS studs/studettes out there will rip it apart. Well, maybe not. It does fully validate as transitional code, so…maybe I’m not as far off as I think.

You’re likely to find yourself on the “squashed” list.

Be that as it may, I refuse to let this issue slide by without comment.

To the guy who ripped me off, I’m extremely disappointed. You’ve insulted me in a way that rubs me worse than just about anything else I can imagine.

Cutline is not only a reflection of things that I’ve learned and techniques that I’ve developed over the past year, but it is also reflective of something far more personal. It’s a living, breathing piece of work that represents a choice that I made back in July of 2005 — a choice to change my life and create something better for myself.

It’s a project that wouldn’t have been possible without some courageous steps and a learning process that was both difficult and stressful at times (but always worth it).

So, when you stole my work, you stole my emotions, my passions, and essentially, you stole me.

Design, writing, problogging, and entrepreneuring — the four topics of your blog — are all rooted in character, which you should probably consider establishing if you hope to take your site any further.

Update: Owning up to a mistake counts as character in my book, and Charles has stepped up to the plate with a posted apology. Thanks!

1 If you check his stylesheet, it’s Cutline. The spacing is identical; class names remain the same; the same elements are defined; and unused code has been left intact. The XHTML is even worse. It’s egregious, really. Cleanline? Please.

2 I found out about this whole thing because apparently, the guy was naïve enough to leave a comment at the Cutline support site. Smart.

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43 comments… read them below or add one

Ben November 16, 2006

I imagine he’ll be getting a healthy dose of traffic from pissed off Pearsonified fans any minute now…

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David Krug November 16, 2006

Dude this irks me. Number one, how many nights have you stayed up poring over a free project, and then someone plays low enough to try and release your work under their name — with a few tweaks they stole from you and someone else — without attribution?

I hope he wakes up and smells the coffee, because this reeks of everything I hate about society.

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Tony November 16, 2006

Don’t worry, Chris.
This ass-hat-ery won’t go un-noticed, I promise you.
The self-policing effects of the blogosphere will be going into overdrive, right about … now. ;)

Cheers
t @ dji

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scott November 16, 2006

Boooo, what a punk.
Let us know if you get his address … he deserves twenty pounds of dog dirt on his front porch. That guy is a liar and karma will haunt him. Keep up the good work Chris. Cutline is great, and you should be very proud of it.

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HART (!-800-HART) November 16, 2006

I’m still not sure I understand completely .. but based on the above – are you suggesting that all he has to do is attribute it to you in the header and everywhere else (I presume like the footer), and then one is free to make the modifications – as he has done – and then distribute it?

It’s obvious from the CSS that he started with yours .. no question about that – but, you are getting lots of attention from it because it’s a good theme – and recently you’re a little extra-commentary about how well it is doing for you (455%) although, it’s doing well for everybody – including me.

I was just curious. Now blargy will get the traffic he is trying to get because of this

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Chris P. November 16, 2006

I don’t mind linking to him — I just want everyone to know what is going on.

Regarding the Creative Commons License, Cutline is released with attribution, which means that no matter what modifications are made, the original attribution links must remain as-is in the footer. Also, the original credits must remain in the CSS so that they will appear in the WordPress Administration Panel when users are viewing available themes.

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HART (!-800-HART) November 16, 2006

Ah .. I see! That’s only common sense :-D // and it seems like he’s ceasing and existing over on his blog.

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Chris P. November 16, 2006

Yeah, he did the right thing. I added an update to the post here so new traffic could see the proper course of action to take in a situation like this.

He’s a solid guy who had a brief mental lapse — it’s all good.

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Charlie November 16, 2006

Chris, and others.

Wanted to take the opportunity to tell you that things are fixed up over on my site. It’s exactly the same as it has been but the credits to you and Cutline are up and live.

Chris, I appreciate you letting me have a “brief mental lapse.” There’s no way you could know that I’m a solid guy but you’ve given me the benefit of the doubt and that, too, is solid.

Everything is going to remain as is. I’m not going to edit the post or anything like that to make myself shine. The comments that rip into me, the pings…all that will remain.

The truth is I’m ashamed that I basically just forgot I was using your brilliant framework. Cutline is awesome and was just what I was looking for for the longest time. Then I tweak it and call it mine out of sheer lack of perspicacity…stupid.

I am very very humbled and very sorry. I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time and sincerely regret that you had to turn your writing skills to nailing me.

Man, if there’s anything I can do to make it up to you, please let me know.

Thank you,

Charlie

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TDH November 16, 2006

I think this is a solid example on where the blogosphere works.

1. Someone does something great.
2. The community rejoice, praise follows.
3. Someone fucks up.
4. The creator gets pissed off, rightly so.
5. The community gets pissed off and protective.
6. The fucker-up reacts in a straight forward and good way.
7. The creator accept apologies.
8. The community is grumbling, but is satisfied.

In other words, you handled it great Chris, and a lot of people probably learned from this – at least one the hard way. Win-win in my book.

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zoltandragon November 16, 2006

Well… even if it weren’t under CC 2.5 – if I use something (be it an idea, a css, whatever) why does it hurt to refer to the owner of that particular “something”??? I never understood this. I am just into learning how Cutline is built up and how I could benefit from its structure – but whatever I plan to do with it, I think it is just natural to leave Chris and his “baby”‘s name at least in the footer. Here is why: if I can grow up to add anything to the Cutline theme, I can proud of having the brand name and Chris’s name on a page bearing my name as well. If it’s not an offense to them… :)

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yaph November 16, 2006

I can understand your disappointment because something similar happened to me with an open source extension I developed for the Joomla CMS.
Someone took the code and changed it which is okay because its licensed under the GPL. In the current release of his fork there is no single line mentioning that this code is based on my original work which is in fact a breach of the GPL.
People acting like that do a lot of harm to the open source community.

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Roberta November 16, 2006

At least he apologized, that’s a good thing. I’ve been using Cutline now for about a month & love the design….I’m new at this and still wouldn’t have done what he did.

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Mike November 16, 2006

Wow ! I tell you what CP, I feel so bad that you had to endure that pain that I’ll buy your dinner tonite just to sooth your wounds a little bit.

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Eric November 16, 2006

Chris, just wondering if I could use the same pop-up type style for the menus on a site that I am working on. I only would like to use that portion and i know i’ve seen it done before(sliding doors), just not with a pop up like action. Would it be infringing on the copyright to create my own menu (photoshop), and use the same idea?

Thanks for all the great work by the way.

-E

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Jeff November 16, 2006

Psst, Charlie, why don’t you and I generate a bunch of traffic to our sites. I have a plan. We’ll jumpstart your fledgling blog that nobody knows about yet and only has ~15 articles. We’ll also grab a bunch of visits for me too. Here’s my idea:

1. You take my theme and change it. Remove the attribution.

2. Instead of emailing you about your misappropriation and settling the whole thing quickly, I’ll post a gigantic entry on my site. I get enough visitors, especially ones who love Cutline, that it will really stir things up. As part of the entry, I’ll link to your site directly… you know… because when people steal your shit, that’s what anyone would want to do — drive traffic to the rogue site.

3. You quickly post a full apology so you don’t lose any possible new visitors. Be 100% stand-up and you have a chance to win some new repeat visitors.

WIN-WIN

Sound good? Let’s do this! ;) x 100

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Chris P. November 16, 2006

Charlie: No worries at all. I appreciate the fact that you took the bull by the horns, and that’s all that really matters to me.

TDH: There’s always an incubation period after an event like this, but I hope this one passes quicker than most.

Eric: The menus are a design conceit and are not protected by any sort of copyright. I’m certainly not the first guy to do pop-up tabbed menus on the Web, so if you want some of those for your site, feel free!

Just don’t take mine :)

Jeff: I was morbidly pissed when I first uncovered the situation last night, but since Charlie has been a man about things, I have absolutely moved on.

I hope he does gain readers from this, and I also hope he spins the whole thing into a positive event for the future of his site.

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Brian Clark November 16, 2006

I can certainly attest to all the work Chris has put into Cutline, because it cuts severely into the time he can devote to my revenue generating schemes. In that sense, I may take Cutline out back and kick its ass, but no one else is allowed to kidnap it and rough it up. :)

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bdthomas November 16, 2006

Perhaps the bottom of pearsonified should say “All Content AND DESIGN (c) CHRIS PEARSON 2005-PRESENT”

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Chris P. November 16, 2006

“It’s all me, dawg”

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Big Roy November 16, 2006

I’m glad it got straightened out.

I’ve been using Cutline since it came out and I used Pressrow before that. As I’ve said before, I couldn’t imagine a better theme for my blog. It’s incredible to me that talented people like Chris make this stuff available for free. I know it earns goodwill for Chris. He has many fans who will be loyal supporters and potential customers for years to come.

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Vic November 16, 2006

That guy is one big loooooser. I’m glad he came out and told the truth after the ‘wrath of the blogs’ come down on him.

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Julian November 16, 2006

“Cutline is released with attribution, which means that no matter what modifications are made, the original attribution links must remain as-is in the footer.”

Where is this specified? I didn’t see any mention of that at the Cutline site. I was under the impression that the attribution link could be anywhere on the page.

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Marvin Garden November 17, 2006

Interesting story. I think it’s great that you release your themes under the Attribution ShareAlike license. I’m also concerned about proper attribution, and am wondering about this:

“Cutline is released with attribution, which means that no matter what modifications are made, the original attribution links must remain as-is in the footer. Also, the original credits must remain in the CSS so that they will appear in the WordPress Administration Panel when users are viewing available themes.”

I downloaded Cutline out of curiosity, and didn’t see where you specified this manner of attribution. Did I miss it, or is it somewhere laid out as a generic requirement of the CC attribution licenses?

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Chris P. November 17, 2006

It’s a generic requirement of the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License, and I suppose it’s not quite as rigid as I made it sound above.

The best I can do here is attempt to paraphrase from the long version of the license (where “Work” refers to Cutline):

If you…publicly display…or publicly digitally perform the Work…You must keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and provide…the name of the Original Author…the title of the Work if supplied…the Uniform Resource Identifier…and in the case of a Derivative Work, a credit identifying the use of the Work in the Derivative Work…

Such credit may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Derivative Work or Collective Work, at a minimum such credit will appear where any other comparable authorship credit appears and in a manner at least as prominent as such other comparable authorship credit.

Cool?

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Marvin Garden November 18, 2006

Not a lawyer, but I think you could read the second part to say that wherever the author claims credit, he or she must give credit to the original author. Not necessarily on every page.

Not really trying to quibble here — I believe it’s appropriate to ask for attribution in the manner you wish, although I think there can be gray areas depending on the degree to which you’ve borrowed from some other source. Absolutely to give credit, but if it’s a small contribution, must you give credit prominently on every page? (Leaving out the cases where prominent attribution is specifically defined! “To use this work, you must provide a hyperlink in font 4em Bees Knees at the top of each page in which it is displayed.” No argument from me that the author could ask for that, although I wouldn’t knowingly use it in that case. And I’d argue that it’s not really in the spirit of the commons.)

And if it’s a generic requirement and to be displayed on every page, where does that leave WordPress attribution? Should you be crediting WordPress on every page as the underlying engine? (Of course that is GPL and not CC.) I definitely think it’s reasonable to have credits in style.css. Seems like a natural place, although not obvious in casual browsing, of course.

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Richard November 26, 2006

Chris, I love your work and appreciate what you bring to the community.

I’m using Cutline for an un-published personal playground. I don’t have credits in the footer, but I do acknowledge on the about page. Is this ok by you?

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Chris P. November 26, 2006

Richard,

No :)

All I ask is that you retain the attribution links in the footer and in the stylesheet. I have instructed others who’ve taken this route to do the same.

The CC 2.5 License specifies that the attribution must be “at least as prominent as” the original attribution. Only placing the link on the about page is far less prominent, so while I ask that you retain the original attribution, the CC states that you must do it in order to adhere to the terms of the license.

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David W. Boles November 26, 2006

Hi Chris!

I just moved from K2-Lite to Cutline as my WordPress.com template and I wanted to drop you some fan mail. Cutline loads my “Front Page” twice as fast as K2-Lite with some CSS customization.

I do wish you allowed direct editing of articles, but you do allow direct editing of comments — so if the editing baby has to be split, I guess you picked the bigger crier.
:grin:

Thanks again for such a clean and sophisticated blog template with a contemporary, yet classic, artistic aesthetic. You are, indeed, a rare talent!

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Chris P. November 26, 2006

David,

Thanks very much for the kind words!

Cutline loads quickly because it has extremely light markup coupled with one less PHP call than K2 or K2 Lite.

As far as the “edit” links go, I am not responsible for those on WordPress.com. The WordPress team implemented those, so I guess they chose to include them on the comments but not on the posts themselves.

Personally, I’m up in the air over whether or not to include these links, mostly because they affect the default styling that the theme user sees. They interrupt the natural aesthetic, and that’s not something I’m just dying to implement, although I’ll readily agree that it’s a convenient feature.

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Hans November 30, 2006

Hello Chris, thanks first of all for giving us such wonders for free and there we could hear and feel the sweats and blood that were dropped for that…

I used Pressrow and tweaked it to my own expectations and the clean code you had was the most welcome effort ever needed. Thanks so much for it. My stylesheet is also tweaked so if you want me to put a note that this theme is still Pressrow-based, I would be too proud to do so.

I also did a mod for a friend that I’m thinking to release. The work would be a theme that is based on Pressrow’s code actually. I’ll make sure to send the appropriate links and words back to you within that theme. If you’re not consent of me doing it, I would be proud to drop the project since I know it’s solely yours….

Thanks very much indeed…..

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Chris P. December 1, 2006

Hans,

Please leave attribution links in the stylesheet and also in the footer. Something simple like “Design by Hans, based on PressRow by Chris Pearson” is perfectly adequate.

I love the work you did on that design for your friend — you’ve done the grunge look nicely!

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Hans December 1, 2006

Thanks Chris, too great you liked it. I’m gonna change the respective stuffs asap and including the required ones.

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adam January 26, 2007

so, i suppose, then you’re super-pissed about this:
http://www.kineda.com/akon/
?

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Hans January 26, 2007

@ Adam

It resembles greatly Pressrow but if you see it like that, then everyone should be pissed off when seeing all the mods of k2 running around. Do they even put attribution stuffs back to the k2 site? I don’t think many do so.

I’ll say then perhaps the k2 team should be really proud seeing the extent their work got to.

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Hans January 26, 2007

@ Adam

shit, I didn’t know that it went that far as to the frontpage of Weblog Tool.

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adam January 26, 2007

yes, but K2 is GPL. there’s not much he can say. cutline is cc-by-sa, IIRC. most k2 mods acknowledge that they are k2 based(even thought they’re not required to), but kineda, being scourge of the earth, doesn’t.

and yes, that’s where i saw it.

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Web Site Çeviri January 13, 2008

I hope he does gain readers from this, and I also hope he spins the whole thing into a positive event for the future of his site..

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Justin Wright October 7, 2009

I just found this article (pretty late I know) but I have to say that I am very impressed that you were able to write this rant towards this guy without using any profanity or threats. If I were in your shoes, I would have reacted very badly.

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Atlanta Rob November 6, 2010

That’s way wrong, brotha.

It’s a way of life some some people….never ding an original thing their entire lives.

Oh well..

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Brixter February 25, 2011

@ Justin, I would agree, I migth even post his website or so.

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Jan April 19, 2011

The Cutline Demo Site does not work at the moment. It just says:
“Parse error: syntax error, unexpected ‘<' in /home/tstevens/public_html/cutline/wp-content/themes/Cutline-1.3.1(2ColumnRight)/index.php on line 16"

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Chris Pearson April 19, 2011

Jan, unfortunately, I haven’t had anything to do with that site or the Cutline theme since March 2007. You’ll have to contact the folks at SplashPress Media for a resolution on this issue.

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Hoot and/or Holler

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