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Is Nick Stakenburg bullying his open-source 'competitor'

by naspinski 3/9/2009 6:00:00 AM

corporate scare tactics on a lower level?

Due to my recent affection for jQuery, I was looking around for a good tooltip framework. I found SimpleTip written by Craig Thompson and it is great! I noticed that there was a SimpleTip 2.0 link on the top and was pretty aggravated at what I saw:

Simpletip2 is now discontinued due to supposed copyright infringement

It was a good run, but unfortunately my own arrogance to the scope of this project led me to make some very bad decisions regarding the design of this site, most notably the copying of anothers layout for my own purposes. I gladly hold my hands up to the fact that, in my rush to provide others with a service, I neglected to think about what I was actually doing - infringing copyright.

I'd like to make one thing abunduntly clear about this whole situation, and that is that no code was ever "adapted, transformed or built upon" as per the terms of the license I supposidly infringed upon. My one and only mistake in this matter was utilising a, to use the term loosely, "competitors" design, and since I have neither the time nor the resources to fight a legal battle between myself and Nick, the project will henceforth be discontinued.

I take this as a life lesson, and hopefully those of you who read this will too, because this incident almost cost me something very valuable to me, my reputation.

Please direct all questions about this infringement to Nick Stakenburg and his Prototip2 project.

A log of all email transactions between me and Nick is available, strictly for reference purposes.

Well, I guess I should re-phrase, I wasn't upset at first, as I am all about following copyrights and such, but I became upset after I read the email transcript. Apparently, according to Nick Stakenburg a developer that charges for a similar Prototype plug-in (he gets no links from my page) Craig is infringing on his rights and he threatened him:
You either stop distributing the javascript or I will make sure you do through a different route, the latter comes with a pricetag.

Not only that, but he goes on to attack Craig's reputation, which is just not cool - as he is doing a great thing by releasing an open-source alternative to a commerical product; nothing unethical about it!

I will leave it to you if you want to read the transcript, but I highly recommend you do. The part that sticks out to me the most was from Nick:
The result of the code is the important thing, the code itself could be rearanged or coded in a different language, just like a translation on licensed text would not be allowed unless given permission. I could code Prototip for any framework and make the underlying code look different every time I go over it. If I did it in jquery I'd start from the ground up as well and end up with a similar result. When you look at the results it's clear that you've based the code on my API and ideas ending up with basically the same thing.

So, apparently, if the 'result' of software is the same as another, they are infringing upon the software itself, even though it may be completely different. Someone better let Open Office know, because they are in a world of hurt, considering this would be no different than if MS came after OO. Not to mention all those email apps and web browsers... almost the entire software industry is in legal trouble if Nick was writing the books. In fact, Nick seems to have released a product (that he charges for) that is amazingly similar to countless js image viewing plugins out there... isn't he breaking his own 'rules'?

Though the most brazen and ridiculous statement though comes at the end:
If you want to use your code for personal use while there is no alternative that works with jquery I'm okay with that but I can't give a green light on distribution.

The master of javascript distribution has spoken!

This is obviously a scare tactic used by Nick to frighten a 'competitor' who is encroachinig on his sales. Nick is jarred by the fact that someone has released a comparable (better?) product that his and it is free. It behaves somewhat the same, so obviously it was copied...

I could be wrong, I am no legal genius, but this seems like a big load of BS and Nick is trying scare tactics to get Craig to remove his competition. I hope Craig calls his bluff (I am assuming that Craig did in-fact not copy Nick's work, as he doesn't have the source).

In fact, isn't this the EXACT reason for the open-source community? Making free alternatives to commercial software that developers can dig in to? Collaboration of minds on software? This whole situation disgusts me. What does everyone else think?

Shout it kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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3/9/2009 6:23:04 PM

Nick is trying to scare Chris - the statement about "results" and not code is complete and total bullshit. The code is copyright. A tooltip library as a concept isn't a copyrightable thing.

It's the same pathetic type of argument Apple tried to use to stop Windows - the "look and feel" case. Which was even more laughable when you consider the Mac was a copy of the Xerox PARC/STAR projects.

Howard gb

3/10/2009 5:23:23 AM

Yeah, his argument holds no water whatsoever. I use a way to make tooltips with pure css. If Nick was correct, I would still be infringing on his code?

naspinski us

3/10/2009 5:45:28 AM

Lee Dumond
Craig f-ed up by copying the site layout for sure, but that's really beside the point.

As for the rest of it, total BS. I am in business and seriously, I have been threatened by bullies like Nick more than once. I tell them to go screw, and 99% of the time (like any bully) they do not carry out their threats.

And Howard is right -- code is copyrightable, IDEAS are not. That's a well established legal precedent.

Craig should DEFINITELY call the bluff.

Lee Dumond us

3/10/2009 6:19:57 AM

Manu Temmerman-Uyttenbroeck
It's a shame indeed.

I just had a look at Nick's website. Apparently Nick is from the Netherlands. I'm Belgian myself (but live in Slovakia). In Belgium we're always joking that Holland people are greedy, have problems to share. I guess this might change joke to reality ;)

Hup Holland hup! Leve oranje!


Manu Temmerman-Uyttenbroeck sk

3/10/2009 10:06:03 AM

Copyright certainly doesn't prevent someone from building a similar library, if there is no code re-use. Some countries allow patents on software, which might cover cases like this (Except of course, that there's a lot of prior art to tooltips). However, software patents are only valid in certain parts of the world. For example, they are not valid in the Netherlands.

troels dk

3/10/2009 10:17:58 AM

Nah, the guy could easily unpack Nick's code so that he has access to it with bit of regex. I've done it myself on code that was also packed using Dean Edwards Packer. Seems like the Craig was in a rush and copied most of it over.

Heat be

3/10/2009 11:11:11 AM

I think some commenters are getting confused by patents and copyright.

Code is automatically under copyright and that IMHO is a good thing. For example if you spent time creating a web site and them found someone has copied it, changed the colors & images and claimed it as their own.

I'm not saying that's happened here but if someone's taken Nicks code, changed it to use jQuery and released it as their own I'd sayu that's wrong.

dan gb

3/10/2009 11:24:44 AM

Im dutch, and I'm awfully surprised about the development the email transcription took. The threatening seems typically Dutch.

I'm ashamed being Dutch when seeing such greedy people....

David nl

3/10/2009 12:00:55 PM

Sadly, this looks like a transcript from a douchebag developer I know when someone implemented the same thing (before him) in Prototype that he did in JQuery.

wow us

3/10/2009 12:01:50 PM

Getting something bak for your work doesn't seem greedy to me, besides the scripts costs like an hourly salery so I'd hardly call that greedy. Next to code you are also looking at copied images, it's not just javascript. I'd be pretty pissed off if someone pulled a stunt on me like that.

Heat be

3/10/2009 1:17:59 PM

I agree with your assertions. The fact is this, copyright protects the code, not the concept or method. If he wanted the rights he seems to be saying he has, then a patent would be in that realm. However, given that tooltips have been used for decades, that is likely an impossibility.

Further, taking Nicks own statements about the outcome of code, perhaps Apple, Microsoft and whomever else should threaten and sue him, as he clearly has made a tooltip codeset that has the same outcome as others - albeit by just rearranging things.

Frankly, it would be nice to see someone call his bluff, if for any other reason then to educate him regarding copyright law, versus patent law, etc.

benb us

3/10/2009 1:31:14 PM

I actually went ahead and emailed Nick - I suggested that he apologizes to Craig). Nick actually responded with two screenshots (side-by-side) of prototip simpletip websites. Same color scheme, same pictures, one had menu on the left, the other one on the right. I mean it looked like a copy. Maybe that's what he was talking about?

Filip us

3/10/2009 2:38:15 PM

@Filip - Read the email transcripts - Craig admitted to copying the site design, and promptly took it down when he was caught. It was the right thing for Nick to do to defend his visual design copyright.

Nick, however, insisted that because the APIs for Simpletip2 and Prototip were somewhat similar that this constituted a copyright violation as well. As far as I can tell, the similarities were, "they do basically the same thing" (as do dozens of other libraries) and "a few keys in the options hash are the same" (even though the key names seem obvious). Nick then made a thinly-veiled threat about a lawsuit, and Craig gave up.

Alec us

3/10/2009 4:26:36 PM

Well, that was interesting since I was considering SimpleTip 2.0 when it came out.

I think I may ponder what would be the appropriate steps needed to do a blackbox reverse engineering of Protip23456whatever. Just as a theory, Nick. Just as a theory.


Richard us

3/10/2009 6:03:17 PM

If SimpleTip code is out in the wild, under an open source license, all someone needs to do is post it to github and let people fork away.

Then Nick would have to put up or shut up.

Jason us

3/10/2009 8:00:44 PM

Aside from being a douchebag, Nick seems extremely confused about what the CC licenses are intended for. (If any of his customers wish to redistribute the work that he is selling them, they are explicitly allowed to do so.)

Finite us

3/10/2009 8:08:29 PM

For the record, Nicks code at www.nickstakenburg.com/.../prototip.js (preserved at http://gist.github.com/77133 ) is CC-BY-NC-ND licensed, so non-commercial users are clearly allowed to use it (without paying the £3 he wants for non-commercial use). If anyone has a link to a website which has paid him £49, their copy will supposedly have a CC-BY-ND license on it, and as such it can be freely copied and reused. Of course, these are obfuscated and not modifiable, but, still, if someone actually wanted to use Nicks scripts without paying they would be within their rights to do so.

Finite us

3/11/2009 11:15:42 AM

Harry M
Oh man, think of the lawsuit that could be launched about IBM compatibles!

Harry M gb

3/11/2009 2:35:03 PM

A bully, to be sure. Nick fundamentally misunderstands the legal protections afforded to his work. He's thinking more as a designer and less as a coder: if it looks the same, it must be infringing.

To bad for him that it doesn't work that way.

Ben us

3/11/2009 9:30:54 PM

Rey Bango
I've emailed Nick & asked him to comment here to allow him to give his side of the story. I would suspect there's more to it than just what we see in emails otherwise Craig wouldn't have just pulled down the code.

I don't think Nick charging for his work is bad at all. It's good stuff and he has a right to make a living. But unless there was some code infringement, I too will be pretty upset if he threatened to sue someone over a concept. If that's the case, every lightbox & sliding panel plugin author will be in the same boat, since Nick offers those as well. Or vice versa as those authors could turn around and do the same.

Before we speculate on what's happening (which is all we're doing now) I would say let's give him the opportunity to at least give his side of the story. It's only fair.

Rey Bango us

3/11/2009 11:02:55 PM

When you compare an unpacked Prototip with Simpletip you'll see that Craig was a whole lot more then just inspired. It makes sense that Craig pulled down his code and it's a shame people rally up behind a crook like this.

Lowroad us

3/11/2009 11:43:06 PM

Sure enough, comparing the cleaned up, unpacked code, of both shows similarities that could only have happened from unpacking Nick's code and making a derivative work (breaking Nick's license). On top of that this guy copied Nicks site design (Wow). And you guys make Craig the victim? This must be bizzaro day. This whole thing smells. Could the email transcripts have been tampered with as well?


3/12/2009 2:54:34 AM

I started off by asking Nick to reply. He didn't say much more than that Nick copied his site and his code, giving no more than explanation than that.

I am all about being fair, I don't want to make anyone seems the bad guy without reason. I wouldn't mind if fivefinger or lowroad would show some of these comparisons as I don't have time to look myself (work 84 hrs/week). Because now it is just their statement against others.

I highly doubt the emails were tampered with as I interacted with Nick himself and he never mentioned anything about that.


3/12/2009 10:46:40 AM

I am all about being fair, I don't want to make anyone seems the bad guy without reason.

Looks like you have no problem with that. You should check your facts first before you write something.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 12:10:42 PM


I was going to recommend Prototip^2, despite the cost, for a fairly visible project. Now I'm not sure what to do.

Sure, copying a website L&F is a Bad Idea. But Nick's assertions that if the end result is a tooltip is patently (*ahem*) absurd.

I don't really want to write my own, but kind of feel like I have to, because both libraries are now tainted by stupid.

Caligula us

3/12/2009 12:43:13 PM

@Caligula: He didn't say end result is a tooltip, he said end result is the same thing. If you read the comments here you'll see that that's true since Craig made a derivative work of Nick's code.

(I am assuming that Craig did in-fact not copy Nick's work, as he doesn't have the source).

When Naspinski said that he was wrong, his post is tained by stupid.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 1:16:42 PM

Lowroad, it still doesn't matter if the end result is the same thing. That does not mean the code is the same, and the code is what's copyright.

If Craig unpacked Nick's code and copied parts of it (he denies it), then that's problematic. But even if that's true, Nick made said some pretty ridiculous things in their email exchange.

Ben us

3/12/2009 1:29:16 PM

Of course it matters, it's a fact that Craig's code is a derivative work of Nick's, Craig thereby violated Nick's license.

What's rediculous is that people overlook this while it's the whole point behind this issue. Craig made some false claimes and people jump to his defense, you guys must be kiddin' me. Craig is certainly not the victim here.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 1:41:05 PM

I said that it only matters if in fact Craig did copy Nick's code.

Nick claims simultaneous that

(1) Craig copied his code [bad for Craig]

(2) Even if Craig didn't, it's still a copyright violation because it accomplishes the same result [wrong on Nick's part]

Nobody--you included--has given me any reason to believe that Craig did in fact unpack and copy Nick's code. If that's shown, then I'll happily drop my case.

Ben us

3/12/2009 1:54:39 PM

With same result (2) he probably means a derivative work, of course jquery code is not exactally the same. Craig making a derivative work (1) is not a claim but a fact. Unpack Nick's code as shown by Fivefinger and find out for yourself.

People who make a case based on nothing and are to lazy to check their facts before they start giving coders a bad name like you and Naspinski make me sick.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 2:07:12 PM

Nick's claim about the "same result" was in direct response to Craig's protestation that SimpleTip was written from scratch. Nick goes on to claim that since SimpleTip was coded to fit Prototip's API and ideas, "ending up with basically the same thing," it constituted infringement. Again, wrong.

Ben us

3/12/2009 2:31:52 PM

Instead of being a lazy troll you should check your facts.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 2:39:30 PM

Rey Bango
@LowRoad: What many are saying is that if Craig copied Nick's code, then that's a problem. If he simply duplicated the API layout without copying the underlying code, then it's not an issue. Otherwise, Twitter would've sued Identi.ca for doing the same.

Unfortunately, the email stream is very ambiguous on the subject of code copying and when I look at it, I can see how ppl can get the impression that Nick is trying to block a competitor since there's no mention of code copying. Mimicking a API is *not* the same as copying actual code.

Rey Bango us

3/12/2009 2:47:27 PM

Lowroad insists that the code-copying is obvious once you compare an unpacked Prototip against the SimpleTip 2 beta.

I see similarities, but nothing that tells me that it's a simple code-copying job.

@Lowroad: perhaps instead of being a lazy troll you should cite examples? Vague gestures toward the source code and "facts" do not an argument make.

Ben us

3/12/2009 3:07:21 PM

Are you guys even coders? It's easy to see that Craig took Nick's code to make a derivative work. I'm not going to cite code that's not open-source, unpack it yourself like Fivefinger did.

The license doesn't allow derivative works! Rey seem to suggest that Craig didn't copy over Nick's code making it look identical and therefor there's no problem, that's not what a derivate work implies, read the CC-License. The API is not the only thing that got copied, images, documentation, dom structure, even css colors got copied. This whole discussion is a joke. If Naspinski checked things out before he went on this rant we wouldn't even have an argument.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 3:11:49 PM

Why are people getting hung up on this `supposed` email transcript. English may or may not be Nick's primary language. He might have a hard time expressing himself with vocabulary to your liking. This does not make his license, or the offense against it, any less valid.

By looking at the code you can clearly see it's more than just a copied API. The fact that Craig copied Nick's layout shows that he was familiar with Nicks work and had an intent to copy it.

Give 3 developers a problem and you will get 3 very different approaches to solving that problem. The internal similarities between Craig's code and Nick's could only have happened by Craig unpacking Nick's work and deriving from it.

@Ben take 5 minutes and compare it for yourself. I gave you the links to the tools you need (read above). I don't think people should be posting unpacked versions of Nick's code as that would break his license (You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.)


3/12/2009 3:57:30 PM

Rey Bango
@FiveFinger: Until you posted the code, there was nothing to compare to & all that was available was the email transcript.

@Lowroad: You should really take the time to read what I wrote. Here, I'll clarify it for you. If he copied the code in anyway (even taking something and refactoring it) then according to the license that would be an issue. If it was an issue of Nick being upset about a smiliar API (with NO CODE COPIED) then it's a BS argument.

Seriously, offer feedback without resorting to name calling or offensively minimizing others concerns. It's bad enough that you post anonymously.

Rey Bango us

3/12/2009 4:09:51 PM

Rey, Lowroad's common complaint in all this is that Craig very obviously derived his code from Nick's. Maybe this is the case, despite the former's protestations. I don't see it (not convincingly, anyway), but perhaps Lowroad is simply much smarter than me.

In any case, it's become a moot point now, since Craig has an entirely new project (qTip) with a fresh codebase that looks to accomplish the same thing.

Ben us

3/12/2009 4:48:51 PM

I and others have at least laid doubt on the `bullying` claim. No one, except Craig, can see his true hearts of hearts intent.

In this case I think Nick was justified in calling Craig on it. Craig's code crossed to many lines for me and apparently for Nick. You might disagree, but you can surely see where Nick is coming from. I.E. a copied site layout and suspiciously similar code to that of an encrypted source under, at the very least, a Attribution-No Derivative Works license. Craig even failed to give the slightest attribution and probably would not have if not caught. To put it another way: Craig made the mistake of walking like a duck, quacking like a duck, so he must be a duck.

I think publicly attacking Nick, as this blog post seems to do, before even looking at the source or even weighing both sides, was an unfortunate mistake.

I am glad Craig has started fresh. I hope this experience has given him a renewed energy and strive to innovate and create.


3/12/2009 6:18:57 PM

An entirely new project.. right. Craig is still shamelessly modelling his work after Nick's without attribution. Guess he can't since then he would admit to having made a derivative work, but we all know better when we look at both projects, what a douchebag.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 6:55:42 PM

Nick doesn't own tooltips and CSS borders, Lowroad.

Just like he doesn't own Lightboxes, either. In fact, he's shamelessly modeling his work after Lokesh (http://www.lokeshdhakar.com/projects/lightbox2/).

See how quickly that argument falls apart?

Ben us

3/12/2009 7:50:42 PM

Nick's Lightbox isn't a clone of Lokesh's, his is far more complex, that aside Lokesh's work is even licensed to allow this. The way Craig derived from Nick's project while it's not open-source takes the cake.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 8:02:59 PM

Which project are we talking about now? qTip? And in what way do you think qTip is a derivative work of Prototip?

Ben us

3/12/2009 8:09:53 PM

Craig tweaked his code a bit further so people stop bitching about that but it's basically still the same thing, just refactored. What sticks out is the fact that the whole UI is ripped from Nick's, the tooltip looks exactally like Nick's and he even copied the Creamy theme for christ sake. Any respect people might have had left for Craig just went down the toilet.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 8:29:35 PM

There are only so many ways to make a flexible tooltip. By your standards, virtually any tooltip implementation from here on out is infringing.

More to the point, there's not a "UI" to speak of: it's a background with a border and a title space. Cluetip does it too, but you aren't damning Karl Swedberg's name, now are you?

Ben us

3/12/2009 8:38:40 PM

I'm just stating the obvious. Karl's tooltips have a dom structure that doesn't even compare to these. His tooltips look way different unlike Craig's total ripoff.

There are many ways to create a tooltip (google is your friend) yet Craig chooses to be lazy and follow Nick's approach every step of the way. If you are not seeing the obvious you must be biased. Someone who feeds off other people's ideas like that shouldn't be calling himself a designer.

Lowroad us

3/12/2009 9:05:20 PM

Ben your comparison of Nick's `Lightview` to Lokesh Dhakar's `Lightbox` is a bit unfair. If you look at the code you can clearly see a very distinct difference, Lightview is almost 2400 lines long compared to Lokesh's 497 lines. Nick's Lightview implemented in an entirely different way as well (using canvas and vml just like his Prototip 2). Lokesh's Lightbox is released under `Creative Commons Attribution 2.5`.

Again when comparing Craig's simpleTip 2 to Nicks's Prototip 2 the similarities are uncanny. Similar API (identical in spots), same color schemes (identical hex values), same program order (i.e. create, assignEvents/active, show, hide, position methods), same canvas/vml techniques. And it can be reasonably assumed Craig was aware of Nick's code because he copied his site design.

It's disappointing that Craig's qTip, at casual glance, seems to be a continuation of simpleTip under a new name.


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6/10/2009 9:01:47 PM

Again when comparing Craig's simpleTip 2 to Nicks's Prototip 2 the similarities are uncanny. Similar API (identical in spots), same color schemes (identical hex values), same program order (i.e. create, assignEvents/active, show, hide, position methods), same canvas/vml techniques. And it can be reasonably assumed Craig was aware of Nick's code because he copied his site design.

haberler tr

7/6/2009 6:18:04 AM

Saç Ekimi
There are alone so abounding means to accomplish a adjustable tooltip. By your standards, around any tooltip accomplishing from actuality on out is infringing.More to the point, there's not a "UI" to allege of: it's a accomplishments with a bound and a appellation space. Cluetip does it too, but you aren't anathema Karl Swedberg's name, now are you?

Saç Ekimi

7/11/2009 2:57:15 PM

when comparing Craig's simpleTip 2 to Nicks's Prototip 2 the similarities are uncanny. Similar API (identical in spots), aforementioned blush schemes (identical hex values), aforementioned affairs adjustment (i.e. create, assignEvents/active, show, hide, position methods), aforementioned canvas/vml techniques. And it can be analytic affected Craig was acquainted of Nick's cipher because he affected his website design.

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