Tribute to Clearleft

Written by Jamie Freeman

The Council should do something about it. Those posters advertising David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash... Oh, 'a tribute to'.

OK, so the last one is famously dead, but still, these posters are clearly playing on people's easily fooled nature. In the old days, when I was a lad and it was all fields round here, such posters would say 'Who's Who' or 'No Way Sis' then, in smaller print, 'a tribute to' whichever act was being parodied.

But now it's the ripped-off band who's name is writ large, and the tribute act get a tiny credit underneath.

I thought this was known as 'passing off' - creating a product that looks, smells and feels like someone elses in order to benefit from their good name. Sunglasses called BayRan's? Boots called Dr Mertins? Wouldn't get away with it for long before the copyright cops come a' knocking, and rightly so in my opinion.

This put me in mind of some tweets by @andybudd a week or so back, bemoaning yet another rip-off site that tried to cash in on Clearleft's hard-won and deserved good name. I won't link to the blighters, they've had enough Google juice already. Suffice to say, it was basically the Clearleft site, but in blue... pathetic.

We've had our fair share of run-ins with people nicking our web stuff (Rapha knock-offs anyone?), entire blog posts lifted, and we even found a Microsoft site that stole - verbatim - the entire introductory text from our home page. Perhaps, deep in the 6pt Terms and Conditions page, they said 'A Tribute to Message', I didn't check. Google the phrase "We specialise in creating usable, accessible sites that are strong on visual identity and designed to meet your business objectives" - it's pretty funny how many people have stolen that over the years. (Here it is on our site, Wayback in 2003.) This one is my favourite by far, they use an extremely tacky animated avatar to actually speak the text we wrote almost a decade ago.

Anyway, while looking at the Clearleft rip-off I wondered if simply adding 'Tribute to' at the top of the website in tiny writing would be enough to sidestep the law? "We're not really pretending to be Clearleft, this is more of a tongue-in-cheek homage to their excellent work, honestly." Hmm, I don't think it would wash.

And I don't think the council (to return to my original point) should allow obvious passing off to happen across their billboards.

Yours sincerely
Andy Budd (a tribute to)


  • James Moss -

    Have you seen the collection of Clearleft rip offs Paul Arnett used to curate over on flickr? They even go as far as stealing the company name (as well as the website) Take a look:

    My favourites are Margin: Right and Clearboth.

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