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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:
And here’s a screenshot of my Twitter profile.
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.
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.
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!
About Leland Fiegel
Leland Fiegel was the original founder of ThemeLab. He is a web developer who loves WordPress and blogging.