Copyright protection, URL’s and web comics

A recent article in Econtent covers the case of a Dilbert fan who created an unofficial Dilbert webpage using official Dilbert strips.

“Wallach, an avid fan of the Dilbert comic strips, found the layout of United Media’s Official Dilbert Web site ‘really lame’. And so, taking it upon himself to offer the world a better layout, he linked—the better to skirt the copyright issue—directly to United Media’s Web server. He called his creation The Dilbert Hack Page.

“‘It didn’t take long for UM’s lawyers to come knocking. ‘Thank you for your enthusiasm,’ they wrote. “However, this material is copyrighted by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.'”

“‘I very carefully designed my Web page to avoid copyright problems,’ Wallach wrote back. ‘If you examine the HTML for my page, you will see it pulls images from the United Media server. I do not store any United Feature Syndicate intellectual property on my server. At the current time, copyright protection does not extend to URLs. Thus, I believe I am within my rights to present my Web page in its current form. Technically, I present a directory of pointers in much the same way as Yahoo!, Lycos, or AltaVista. The legality of my page is directly related to the legality of search engines in general, and any legal action against me would set an important precedent for intellectual property on the Web.’

“UM’s reply: ‘If it turns out you are wrong, it will cost you a lot of money.’

“At that point, Wallach called a lawyer. “



  1. OK.

    This reminds me of a story a friend told me…seems there was a student writer who thought he could write a killer screenplay of a Harlan Ellison novel.

    So, despite the warnings of others in his classes, he went ahead and wrote it. Then he sent it to Ellison fully expecting praise.

    He got a response pretty much like THIS guy got, but less polite…an Ellison trademark. The gist is, Ellison is a WRITER…why on EARTH would he want someone ELSE to write a screenplay for him?

    Scott Adams is an artist and web designer/tech-head…why would he want someone else to design his SITE for him?

    Pardon me as I shake my head, rub my eyes, and laugh tiredly.

  2. I’m inclined to disagree. The whole point of the matter isn’t that he wanted to get famous off of someone else’s characters. That doesn’t happen. The people who create the characters use them themselves. Even the people who do the work for them, like the assistants who ink Garfield, don’t get famous or even really any decent credit for their work.

    The argument here is that he didn’t like the layout to Dilbert’s material, and wanted to post a site rearranging it in a fashion that worked. We’ve all done this with other crap before, like a links page we think looks out of order so we put it together a way we see it. Or maybe it’s software we download and find very useful except for one stupid feature so someone decides to crack it, make it available, and it becomes more widely used than the original. The problem here is, hosting the copyrighted material will get you in trouble. I notice how people gripe and complain when you link back to their sites, “Don’t link directly to this…” because that eats a lot of bandwidth. However, it still isn’t illegal. All you’re doing is redirecting people to something that’s already available. If they make this illegal, who’s to say you couldn’t get in trouble down the road for e-mailing a link to a friend? I certainly think this holds more ground than people are assuming.

  3. Ah, but it is.

    See, I agree, not many can actually ‘get famous’ off another’s work. It’s a pipe dream.

    However, you cannot honestly think that the aforementioned subjects did not have some hopes of this when creating their works…just because it’s a pipe dream doesn’t mean people think it can’t happen.

    Copyright law on the internet admittedly is still a very sticky subject. However, the defining point in this and in my story has to be the APPLICATION of the subject’s respective works.

    In my story, the student wrote it as he was a fan of Ellison’s work, and assumed Ellison would not mind. He wanted some recognition, true, but it was essentially a fan piece. The same goes for the maker of the secondary Dilbert web design. He thought he could do a better job, and made a working design he hoped they would use. Again, a fan piece.

    Then they both went and did something stupid. They took steps that blatantly broke copyright law.

    The student tried to offer his work to Ellison as an actual working script, in hopes Ellison would market it instead of thinking it a fan piece. He basically tried to make something that was not his, his own. This is illegal according to even the basics of copyright law. Stupid.

    The Dilbert fan actually took it one step FURTHER by making a working site with artwork and strips from the original Dilbert site, and then presenting it online under HIS NAME as an alternative. He tried to link the Dilbert strip to himself, which is illegal. Again, stupid.

    This was not a case of simply ‘borrowing’ a design scheme, or ‘lifting’ a piece of code from another site. This was blatantly taking the Dilbert strip from the original Dilbert site and placing it on HIS site for the general public to see and use.

    You argue that others do work for Dilbert besides Adams. Yet, I argue that they are PAID WORKERS who go in KNOWING their names will not be associated with the piece when finished except in perhaps a small credits page. To compare a paid Dilbert employee to this person is like comparing an actual McDonald’s grill cook to a guy with a grill who sets a wooden stand in front of said McDonald’s selling his version of the Big Mac because ‘he can do it better’. It’s not comparable. And it’s definitely illegal.

    This won’t lead to overzealous censorship. However, it WILL protect US from having our work stolen from us as artists.

  4. Let me throw out something that hasn’t been mentioned yet – you can copyright an html page. In fact by putting an html page online you have a copyright on it because you’ve published it. If someone links to an element of that html page there’s a good argument that that “someone” is creating what is called a “derivative work.” And by making that derivative work available on that “someone’s” website that’s a publication of the derivative work (arguably). You can’t create and publish derivative works without permission from the copyright holder.

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