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HTML5 periodic table DMCA takedown request

A personal story about dealing with a copy-right troll over a trivial GitHub project.

Today I received a DMCA takedown request against my personal website over a trivial GitHub project that involves a periodic table layout and information about HTML5 elements.

Update: The legal threats and the DMCA takedown request were withdrawn. In addition to that the person involved has apologised and as such I've removed their name from this post.

Normally I like to write about my projects and experiments but it seems this an unfortunate part of what we do so I will detail it here in case anyone else has this experience.

The reasons for the DMCA takedown are detailed below. At the end of the day, whether there is a legal basis for it or not, the claim is in very poor spirit.

Prior to being informed about the DMCA takedown request I received an impersonal email. In fact it was not just an impersonal email, it was a ‘cease and desist notice’ full of legal speak and threats such as this:

“You neither asked for nor received permission to use the Work… nor to make or distribute copies of it. Therefore, you have infringed my rights under 17 U.S.C. Section 101 et seq. and could be liable for statutory damages as high as $150,000 as set forth in Section 504(c)(2) therein.”

I’d had no prior contact with this person or any knowledge of their work or existence, so it came as a bit of a shock. It was not what I’ve come to expect from the development community. But I respect the rights of fellow developers and designers to make a living by selling their work, so I thought I’d better check this out in more detail before responding.

Like most developers in our community I’m always very careful to check and attribute sources so I could not understand what basis there could be for this claim.

The HTML5 periodic table I made was intended to be just a fun css challenge. It is responsive and the entire project including the interaction is done with just CSS (thank you :target attribute). The information about each element was shamelessly stolen from the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) and the layout is thanks to Dmitri Mendeleev. But luckily MDN and Dmitri are all about the learning and they support the community; as such I have much love for them both.

But getting back to the basis for this claim. The original idea for the challenge came from an image:

I’m not sure where I first saw this image but I believe it was shown to me by a friend who also proposed the challenge. I later traced the source of the image to Josh Duck and made an effort to attribute him.

The person who contacted me claims to have produced a poster of a HTML periodic table earlier than the work by Josh Duck. They also claimed to have sued Josh Duck. So they seem like a reasonable person. I responded and suggested: “Shall we try talking first?”. I pointed out that:

  • I have not seen the original poster
  • I cannot find any proof of an earlier work - only a recent version can be found online
  • my final effort was substantially different to that by Josh Duck and even more different from the poster
  • a printed poster and HTML are completely different mediums with different interactions and purpose
  • the ability to claim copyright over public domain information such as a periodic table layout and the HTML5 specification is questionable at best
  • I am not a US citizen so different copyright laws may apply
  • And importantly the GitHub project exists purely as a learning exercise and has very little traffic (it’s just a simple hack day project!)

Further to this I’m not selling anything, it’s purely educational and if someone likes it, they would be more likely to take an interest in a print product with a similar concept.

I’d love to remake this using flexbox and update it with newer HTML elements and more detailed content. I’d love people to be able to fork it and learn more about creating challenging layouts with css. Or develop something new from this concept.

Imagine if we all received copyright challenges over something as tenuous a particular layout and subject matter. This would mean there could only be one single column web development blog (and not only that it would be a book).

At the end of the day whether there is a legal basis for this claim or not it’s in very poor spirit and I think it amounts to nothing more than trolling and is not what DMCA was intended for.

It might be a small, outdated and largely insignificant GitHub project but I intend to challenge this through all reasonable means. Firstly this involves a DMCA Counter Notice with GitHub.

Luckily in the end (after posting this origional story) the person involved had a change of heart. The approach may have been a tad overzealous and the reaction not anticipated, and I think we can forgive that. I also think a lot more can be achieved by working with the community, there is room for similar ideas and generally we're a great bunch of people who are happy to share a link and promote each other's work.