What does “copyright” mean?

As regular readers of LiveSide.net know, I am Donavon West, a Microsoft MVP and I wrote the Windows Vista Countdown gadget. The other day, a friend sent me a link to a blog posting by Mitch Denny, a veteran Microsoft MVP. It states:

One of the machines I am running here had the Windows Vista Countdown sidebar gadget from Donavan West, a Windows Live Development MVP over at LiveGadgets.net.

Anyway, I hacked his gadget so that it did a countdown for Code Camp Oz 2007, just download and install the gadget and look at my stunning graphical abilities.

My first thought was “yeah, so what“, but then I was looking into what was going on an started to get a little irritated. Basically what Mitch has done is to take my gadget and marked the manifest with his copyright notice. He also replaced the Windows Vista background image with a non-professional looking campfire image (looks like Mitch forgot to turn off the background before saving it as a the 24 bit png). He also changed a few things in the JavaScript (notably the countdown date and hover links). The odd thing is that my company name LiveGadgets.net is still all over the code. In fact there is a file in the gadget named copyright.txt that states “Copyright 2006 LiveGadgets.net” as does the first line of the JavaScript. I’d rather not have my name associated with his version. It makes my company look bad.

What bothers me the most is not the fact the he stole my code and is masquerading it as his own work (although that does grind my gears too), but that:

  1. He didn’t even bother to ask me
  2. My name is still associated with his less than professional looking gadget
  3. It sets a bad precedence for other people stealing copywritten code
  4. He spelled my name wrong

Now some of you may say “he gave you credit in his blog post”, but does that make it right? He has even posted it to Microsoft’s gadget gallery, this time without any attribution. A case of Aussie beer with a note attached saying “sorry ’bout that, mate” might have softened the blow.

I write gadgets for a living. Much of what I write is propriatary and I obfuscate my code for just that reason (which is about all you can do with JavaScript). On the other hand, I have also shared plenty of “how to” tips and non-copyrighten code with the gadget community (a fact that Microsoft noticed by rewarded me my MVP status). Take for example my article and accompanying source code for Gadgets: Write Once Run Everywhere

I choose what I share and what I don’t. I don’t appreciate people stealing my work and passing it off as their own. I would think a fellow MVP would appreciate and respect this. The irony of the situation is that I probably would have helped Mitch with the gadget had he just asked. Or Mitch should have just written this one himself. As gadgets go, a countdown gadget is not rocket science.

So I’m still asking myself, what does “copyright” mean? I’m sure the ambulance chasing lawyers out there would say “sue the bastard”. Maybe this is an MVP impeachable offense? Or is Mitch (and others) free to copy anyones code for whatever purpose they want? What do you think?

BTW, If you’re thinking to yourself “didn’t you violate copyright by using the Microsoft Vista logo”? The answer is no, I received permission from Microsoft to use it.