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WordPress Clone Themes – Your Take?

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I came across a theme the other day called TweetPress, which bears a very obvious resemblance to the Twitter profile design. Let’s compare.

First, here’s a screenshot of the TweetPress theme:

TweetPress

And here’s a screenshot of my Twitter profile.

Theme Lab Twitter

Not only is it a striking resemblance, it appears the cloudy background image was lifted directly from Twitter’s website, among other things. It’s the default background image set for new profiles.

Update: According to Gabriel Jones, creator of the TweetPress theme, “The [Twitter] API returns the background image, the link colors, everything…” in this comment.

Cloned WordPress themes aren’t exactly a new phenomena though…

Other Clone Themes

This blog post over at WPZOOM with 15 examples of WordPress clone themes shows a few more examples.

Some of the themes are clones of popular news sites, such as ESPN, and the New York Times. A theme review which I did here a while back called Red Carpet could have been considered a clone of People.com

Others are clones of popular social network sites like Digg, Facebook, and of course, Twitter.

Some are free, some are paid. Either way, I don’t like it one bit.

My Take

At best, they are overly inspired. At worst, it’s downright theft. I’m no lawyer, but I’d imagine that taking a custom design of another site would involve some serious copyright issues.

When you’re releasing the theme into the wild, selling it, and profiting off of it, you’ve probably opened a whole new can of worms.

Running Custom Theme, I have received several requests to make clones, replicas, whatever you want to call it, of other sites the potential client is not associated with.

I’m not talking about inspiration, I’m talking about requests to completely copy a site. I have refused every single job like that, and will continue to do so.

A while back, someone actually took my old blog design of Theme Lab, converted it to a Blogger theme (yuck) and released it under some Creative Commons license. This was almost an exact copy, images, styles and all, released without my knowledge or consent. I asked nicely (as in, no internet hounds involved) and the webmaster who released it removed it.

In another incident, someone released a theme (which I reviewed as a Theme Lab Look-alike Theme) which also took some obvious inspiration from Theme Lab, although I don’t believe any images or CSS was directly taken from my site.

Needless to say, in both instances I was pretty upset that it seemed people were taking advantage of my popular site design and using it to get more traffic, promote themselves, and ultimately profit off of my copyrighted designs.

Your Thoughts?

WPTavern had a great discussion titled “Themes that mimic copyrighted design,” started by Hafiz Rahman of WPlover. The consensus? It was generally a bad practice. Whether or not it was legal or not, or enforceable, remained up for debate.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the issue. Here are a few questions to think about.

  • Where do you draw the line between inspiration and design theft?
  • How would you feel if someone copied your popular blog design, and then released the theme without your permission?
  • What if they were profiting of your copyrighted work, through direct theme sales (if it’s through a paid theme) or ad and affiliate revenues?

Sound off in the comments.

Update: Hafiz Rahman (previously mentioned in the post) has published a response: Theme Developers, Learn to Steal the Right Way!

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    You are quite right, TweetPress does bare a striking similarity. I did this on purpose, in fact, I am pulling the information directly from the Twitter API, so I am allowed to do so. The API returns the background image, the link colors, everything… So Im not stealing anything.

    Please do your research before you go off blaming people for doing something wrong, when in this case, I clearly did nothing wrong.

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    You will also notice, if you download this theme and activate it, that when you change your profile design on twitter, it also changes in TweetPress… Neat how API’s work huh?

  • Leland

    Gabriel, thanks for stopping by.

    Whether or not the API allows it or not is irrelevant to me. It can still cause confusion as you’ve crafted the theme to look almost exactly like a Twitter profile.

    Do you think the API was meant to be used to generate a WordPress theme which mimics a Twitter profile page to the tee? I suppose that’s up to interpretation.

    You clearly did nothing wrong? Maybe you didn’t, but I wouldn’t call this “clear” by any stretch.

  • http://nic-oliver.com Nic Oliver

    I’m not convinced it’s a good idea to have a site that looks like the Twitter default homepage.

    However, if someone has designed a custom made Twitter back, why not use it for their website as well?

    I can see both sides of this argument and I have to admit that although I have a bespoke Twitter back, I had never considered using it as my blog theme. It would make sense from a branding point of view!

    • Leland

      If you had a custom background image made, certainly you could use that wherever you wanted. That’s your design, it could help with branding.

      It’s not just about the background image though, or even about the colors, or whatever other things the Twitter API apparently lets you do.

      It’s the exact same layout and the same general likeness as well.

    • http://slimmity.com Omar

      Leland you mention the layout, but there’s millions of sites with the exact same layout and different colors, soon you will see sites saying they own colors or how to colors are used…

      Ripping the exact same site or anything above 60% is bad anything else is reasonable or at least not as bad i guess

      • Leland

        I believe that everything is at least a little inspired by something made previously. When it comes to websites chances are you’re going to see similar layouts, colors, whatever. A lot. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that.

        There needs to be a line drawn between straight up copying and inspiration though. Most of the “clone” themes I’ve seen seem closer to copying that inspiration.

  • http://brianhgill.com Aluwir / Norski/ Brian Gill

    Aside from intellectual property rights issues, I see a huge downside from the marketing perspective.

    I use the Blogger service, and started each blog with one of the standard themes. Since then, I’ve been substituting or adding my own graphics and, often, changing colors to distinguish my work from the thousands (millions?) of others.

    Looking just like everybody else is *not* an advantage – not for what I produce, anyway.

    • Leland

      Completely agree with you there. It’s much better to at least customize a design (if it’s a distributed theme, for example) than use a theme identical to tons of other sites out there.

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    I think you all miss the point. I created the theme to look like Twitter on purpose. I am using Twitter’s API to access its styling, completely ‘clear’ and completely legal.

    As I mentioned, you can change the style in your Twitter account, and TweetPress will reflect those changes.

    The point of TweetPress is to have a seamless integration between your twitter account and blog. If you choose that this is not what you want, then by all means, dont use the theme.

    • Leland

      I get it, TweetPress is supposed to look exactly like your Twitter profile. The Twitter API allows you to get the background image and colors from your Twitter profile.

      I’m curious as to how you’re so sure this is “completely legal” though, have you had correspondence with Twitter at all? Or maybe you’re an intellectual property lawyer?

      I get the feeling you’re basing all of this on the assumption that if the API allows it, then it must be legal. Is that correct?

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    I’m not sure I follow you logic. If a service does not permit the use of a certain asset, then they would not provide it in the service, no?

    And yes, one can assume that if an open service is providing the user with data, that data can be used.

    Maybe this will clear things up for you:
    “We provide our APIs for free and with no guarantees or terms of service. ”
    From their API Wiki

    Admit it, you were quick to judge, and you made a mistake. Its cool, I wont point and laugh. I promise :)

    • Leland

      Okay, since you evaded my question, I take you it you’re not a laywer and you didn’t ask Twitter for permission?

      Sure, the API will return the background image and all the colors. That’s great, but again, it’s completely irrelevant to what I’m trying to say.

      You completely copied the style of a Twitter profile, right down to the “More” button functionality. That has nothing to do with the API.

      It’s obvious you’re ignorant to any intellectual property issues here.

    • http://www.webmaster-source.com redwall_hp

      I would say that it’s fine to use the background image and colors, seeing as the API returns it. (That’s quite a brilliant idea, too, if you don’t mind my saying…)

      However, what Leland is trying to get across is that other elements look exactly the same. The rounded corners, the layout of the sidebar, the menu in the top-right corner, etc. In accumulate, the design is pretty much exactly the same. Even if you’re pulling a different color scheme and background image in, the design still looks like Twitter. Unless Twitter explicitly permits you to imitate their design, you aren’t supposed to do that. The same goes for themes that look too much like Facebook or CNN or whatever.

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    Actually, Leland, I ignored the question directly because it has no basis for your argument. But if you must know, I actually do know the issuer of the Terms of Service, his name is Ryan Sarver, and I used to work with him at Xplana here in Boston. And Im quite familiar with IP, I work for IBM and have close ties with the legal team.

    Now lets disassemble what your mean by ripping off… You say I have copied Twitters style, “right down to the ‘More’ button functionality”. Yes, and no. I did use the word more and made the button wide like Twitter, in that, I have copied. The functionality ( visual representation ) has been around long before Twitter became popular or even into existence. The rounded corners and other generic stylings are seen all over the internet, so who is ripping who here? The layout of the sidebar, yep, you got me, I copied that. the styling of the footer, yep, got me there too.

    But that is the point. I wanted to create a theme that looked exactly like Twitter for seamless integration.

    It would be one thing if I were selling this theme, but I’m not. If it were my intention to somehow make money off this, then yes, you may have a point. But since that is not the case.

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    @redwall_hp – thanks, and I would tend to agree with Leland, you and others if in this case I would trying to profit from this, and the direct copying had no basis. But in this instance, its actually a pretty clever idea to create a seamless representation of Twitter on your personal blog.. A user can cross over between one’s twitter account and blog without knowing they have made the switch. What twitter lacks in 140 character count limits tweetpress makes up in blog posts.

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    If you do not provide your twitter screen_name, you will get back a blank background, no rounded corners, no color scheme, no colored sidebar… which is the basis for twitters design. If you do not provide the screen_name you get an empty shell of a theme. which looks very little like Twitter. ( With the exception of the More button ;) )

    If you were to look at theme with a blank style, you would not even think of it as a Twitter copy.

    But since Twitter provides the styling to me, down to the color of the links, I would say its fair game.

    Now if further down the road if Twitter decided to stop providing that, well then, there would be no more TweetPress would there?

    I sell thinking caps if you guys need any.

  • Leland

    All right Gabriel, I see your point. TweetPress is a relatively benign example, especially compared to those popular news site clones that are for sale (and subsequently profited off of).

    I do think the idea behind the theme is clever, for sure. Thanks for sticking around the comments.

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    Regards Leland, and thanks. My intention never was to copy a site and pass it off as my own, far from it. And I’m by no means a designer, I’m a Java, JavaScript, PHP and Flex developer with a passion for cool looking sites. If I feel that I need to copy something, I would assume just pay for it.

  • http://wplover.com Hafiz Rahman

    I really don’t want to single out TweetPress here because as Leland mentioned there are worse clones out there, and I personally am amazed by the technical feats behind the theme.

    However Twitter’s TOS (http://twitter.com/tos) mentioned under Twitter Rights that:

    All right, title, and interest in and to the Services (excluding Content provided by users) are and will remain the exclusive property of Twitter and its licensors. The Services are protected by copyright, trademark, and other laws of both the United States and foreign countries. Nothing in the Terms gives you a right to use the Twitter name or any of the Twitter trademarks, logos, domain names, and other distinctive brand features.

    I am not a lawyer but it seems to me Twitter’s visual design and layout can be categorized as “distinctive brand features.”

  • http://ceoworld.biz/ceo Elizabeth Haggar

    I am not a big fan of Cloned WordPress Themes. But these clones are adorable. I guess if you were in the same niche that might be really cool.

    Not sure how readers would feel about it though?

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    hi Hafiz – and thanks. I would normally agree with you. However, the distinctive brand features you speak of are provided to me in the API service.

    Ok, the tweetpress logo is a knockoff of the twitter logo, and in a future release I will consider changing it.

    As far as copyright, I have done nothing to violate there Terms. As the ToS states, the Services in question are and will always be protected by Twitter, as they are the ones providing the service.

    As far as rounded corners and two column layout and other minor design features, tough cookies, that type of styling has been around long before Twitter has existed.

    • http://www.webmaster-source.com redwall_hp

      “As far as rounded corners and two column layout and other minor design features, tough cookies, that type of styling has been around long before Twitter has existed.”

      But in aggregate, the sum of all of those little features, it just seems a bit too similar. The fact that, as you said, you can leave Twitter and not know it seems like we’re straying into trademark territory, seeing as there’s a possibility of user confusion…

      I’m not a lawyer, but I think this is where you stand:

      1. You’re okay for mow.

      2. If Twitter decides TweetPress looks too similar to their design, they probably have the legal footing to send you a DMCA takedown notice or Cease and Desist that would stand up in court if you tried to fight it.

      Personally, I’d like to see Twitter give this an official green-light, or at least work out some sort of compromise. I like the idea of the theme, and can think of some neat ways to extend it, but I wouldn’t want to use it when it stands on some, in my opinion, shaky legal ground.

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    redwall_hp – normally I would agree with you and Leland and others who have made a valid argument. However in this case, where Twitter is providing me with the ‘essential’ design features, which in aggregate makes up the design of Twitter, I am within reason to do as I am.

    I agree… if at any time Twitter decides to no longer provide theme styling in its service, I will no longer support TweetPress. Twitter is currently offering a ‘green-light’ by simply providing the styling data to me in its service. Period.

    • http://www.webmaster-source.com redwall_hp

      But if you ignore the API part, if you commented out some lines so the background and colors wouldn’t load from the API, the resulting “look” of TweetPress still looks like Twitter.

      I’m no stranger to the Twitter API. (I maintain one of the bigger Twitter plugins.) I know how it works, and the only parts of TweetPress coming from the API are the avatars, the background image, the profile colors, and data such as follower count. The layout and styling of everything else is *not* from the API, and isn’t provided to you by Twitter.

      That’s what we’re talking about here, mainly. Don’t you think everything *other* than what you’re getting from the API, overall, looks almost *exactly* like Twitter? Unless you have an email from Twitter where they said you could do that, they didn’t give you a green-light…

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    I do understand you point. Let me ask you, why offer sidebar color, sidebar border color, link color, font color, background image, background color and whether its tiled or not? Why offer all that? What’s the point?

    Btw, you cant use hp in your name, that’s a copyright by Hewlett Packard. :)

    When Twitter offers such design properties in its service it is implied that people can do with it as they wish. ( As long as they are not doing h4x0r-ish things or making financial gains ) Which I am clearly not, no ads on my site.

    You are quite right, it does look almost *exactly* alike. That was my intent. So thanks. (Though it took little effort, since most of it was available via Twitter api)…

    More in the next reply……

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    So, now lets disassemble the theme. A typical two column design, centered. Common no? Next… navigation at top right, again, common no? Footer at bottom in a padding div, again, quite common. Front page articles displayed in vertical list form, very common, no? The more button, oh snap! you got me, I copied (but not in code). Ill get to the sidebar in a moment. We cant compare single page elements as there isnt a single page layout on twitter…. Ok, now sidebar, yep pretty much the entire top section is a copy, ( which I pulled from the service ) and styled like Twitter. So now there are 2 elements I have copied. Search box, yup, a copy. 3 elements I have copied. The up/down arrow, yep, copied, 4 elements. The slide action is found everywhere…. not a copy sorry.

    So if you take away the elements/assets Twitter provides me, I’d say I’m on par with most of the themes that are out there today. In fact, I’d say, with only 4 visual elements being copied, I am on par with most web design these days.

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    Do me a favor, download the theme, install it, take out the design elements that are passed from Twitter, and then honestly tell me if it looks exactly like twitter. Seriously.

    • http://www.webmaster-source.com redwall_hp

      I did already. I loaded your demo page up and used Firebug to change it up. So long as you leave a non-white background in place of the image, it looks just like Twitter.

      I think if you added some creative changes to it, nobody would complain about the similarity. Make the wrapper div a bit wider, maybe move some things a little.

  • http://twitter.com anon
  • http://blondish.net Nile

    According to WhatIsCopyright.org (http://whatiscopyright.org ), this would be total outright theft. I have been in the design and blogging community for a LONG time, and this is just big. When you imitate that closely to the original product, you are stealing another person’s hard work. Theft can be images, or even exact coding.

    @Gabriel – Even if it were to be similar to Twitter’s setup, you probably should have used a different background. As long as the code is different and even if you uses similar colors, but a different and ORIGINAL background, you might have been passed over and just dubbed a Twitter enthusiast.

    This is not something that I would have a cry fit over as I left that hat on the rack years ago. However, as one web designer to another, you have some work to do to change it to not violate copyright.

    • Leland

      Nile, tried to clarify this in the original post with an update, but as far as the background image goes, TweetPress will take whatever background image your have on your Twitter profile.

      Whether it’s the default one, or even a custom background image, it will use that.

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    “So long as you leave a non-white background in place of the image, it looks just like Twitter.”

    That’s the point. Twitter provides me with the background and sidebar styling. Without them, you would have a basic two-column design. Thank you for validating my point.

    Anyway, I will take everyone’s valued input into consideration when developing the next iterations.

  • http://nythemes.com nythemes

    i disagree and agree on some levels about this topic, i can also see how & why most people react negatively and aren’t receptive of this idea.

    i think reverse engineering a clone for wordpress that looks and functions in an almost identical fashion if not exactly identical is an art of itself, and should be applauded. TweetPress great job, give yourself a pad on the back.

    Why reinvent the wheel, when you can provide the user experience and layout that millions of users already love. It’s called learning from the best and using that for your users.

    TweetPress gives power back to the people, instead of creating tweets and value for twitter, TweetPress makes it possible for people to tweet using their own blog and take ownership of those tweets if they choose to, instead of giving it away to twitter. Don’t you people see the opportunity here? You don’t have to use the same background, this theme makes it easy for bloggers to use their existing custom twitter backgrounds and integrate it, run their tweets on their own blog, either on a separate page or just standalone tweeting using wordpress.

    Just because you have a clone doesn’t mean it’s meant to be used to pretend and be the Twitter.

    Most cars on the street you see, all look the pretty much the same, they have 4 doors, 4 wheels, 4 lights, 1 steering wheel, just think about it if you took out the logos, i would guess most people would have a hard time recognizing which brand is which, what does that tell you about originality, theft. Being unoriginal is not a crime! or is it?

    jmtc

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    People… seriously. Stop watching Fox Noise, step away from the brainwash. Everything is not a conspiracy and theft. The world does have good people in it.

    Twitter PROVIDES me the styling. I’m not stealing anything. I made the theme to look as to Twitter as possible, on purpose! And no I’m not trying to make money off it.

    Seriously folks, run to your nearest drug store, go directly to the Pharmacist and ask for a bottle of their best chill pills. Take two a day.

    • http://www.webmaster-source.com redwall_hp

      Don’t even suggest that I watch the trash from Fox “News.”

      Anyway, I’ve given up arguing with you. Whether Twitter leaves you alone or sends you a takedown notice isn’t really my problem; we’ve given a good advance warning. Good luck with the cognitive dissonance.

      • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

        Good idea, lets just agree to disagree.

        Narcissist. ( I wasn’t talking to you — re: Fox Noise )

  • http://gabrieljones.com Gabriel Jones

    TweetPress 2 is available for download.

    Its even MORE like Twitter now. Almost pixel perfect. And you can Tweet & Retweet from it too. Yum.

  • Ant Gray

    For me it’s ok to copy generic styles (right, you cannot copyright module grid, colour scheme, etc), simple patterns or tricks. But not accetable to carbon copy unique decoration elements.