Copying is Cool!

December 10, 2022

Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in personal websites adopting similar features to my website, whether it’s my two-paned collapsing design or the reply-to links at the bottom of my blog articles. These include Tom Fasano’s site and his webring’s site, Jacob McCormick’s site, and Ray Patrick’s site.

My site design

This is wonderful!

Just to be clear, I’m not pretending to be the first person to make a two-paned website or to add reply-to links to my articles. I merely use these stylistic choices popularized through my website as examples to write about a wider topic: The fear around imitation on the web.

The so-called “indie” web is all about experimentation and education, both of which rely on some level of imitation. Whether it’s copying and pasting some CSS code to get started writing your first webpage or just looking through the world of software and computer design and making note of specific elements you enjoy and want to replicate, some level of imitation is required to learn and experiment.

Imagine a world where you couldn’t do that. Where some restrictive intellectual property law prevented you from even copying someone else’s design without asking for explicit permission first. This is the world that proprietary software makers and their collaborators wish to create. A system that operates fundamentally around fear, the greatest killer of creativity and expression.

Another example is in copying and distributing media. While not really imitation as much as distribution, one of the most detrimental developments in recent history has been the advent of hyper-restrictive copyright legislation which gatekeeps knowledge and stifles creativity everywhere. I’m not condoning illegal piracy in any way here, indeed I find it marvelous how many websites all around the indie web have published all their content under Creative Commons licenses, ensuring that it remains openly accessible and freely distributable. Once again, the same fear of “imitation” applies to lawmakers’ fear to abolish copyright.

Copying is Cool

Copy and adapt everything you see online. It’s what curious and intelligent people are supposed to do, just think of it as learning by trying everything out directly. One of the greatest mistakes of the modern generation is convincing them that the web and by extension the internet is a unique prerogative of governments and corporations. Copying is a minuscule but still significant demonstration that we are still indeed human and this is a computer system designed for and by humans.