Graphics copyrights

Subject: Graphics copyrights
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 1996 13:56:45 -0500

John Russell asked for opinions on a graphic he created
based on another graphic created by Microsoft. John, you
can't copyright an _appearance_: if you could, North
American cars wouldn't all look the same. Similarly, such a
copyright would ensure that only one application used the
graphics for a tools palette, a tabbed dialog box, etc.
It's the specific implementation of that appearance that is
copyrighted: in short, you can imitate, but not photocopy
(or download, as the case may be).

Caution: You can, however, _trademark_ an appearance. The
Microsoft logo's typographic characteristics would prevent
you from creating a logo for "Microhard" that looked too
similar. The legal touchstone: are you trying to make
people think that your product is really Microsoft's, or
are you just striving for compatibility?

In your case, you'd likely be safe, for two reasons: you
redesigned the specific icons on the screen, and Microsoft
has finally accepted what Apple knew all along (that
interface consistency is important to users), and is
promoting this via their style guide. I'd be hesitant only
if you used the actual (downloaded?) graphic from
Microsoft's page, rather than coming up with a credible
imitation on your own. If there's mention of this in their
style guide (e.g., "make your help screen look something
like this"), that would pretty much eliminate any worries.
(Caveat: I'm not a lawyer.)

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.


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