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Schools take a liking to Brown’s Web site

By
Friday, September 12, 2008

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. So while students may have been slow to embrace the new Brown.edu home page when it launched in August 2006, at least two schools have taken to it – or simply taken it.

Over the past two years, a number of designers have asked permission to use the University’s code, and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Ohio State University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville have created Web sites that look and function just like Brown’s.

Though the code for Brown’s site is copyrighted, the University views the similar designs as a compliment, said Director of Web Communications Scott Turner.

Turner learned about OSU’s similar Web site design last October, when the OSU webmaster sent him an e-mail asking if the site infringed upon Brown’s copyright.

“I think he wanted us to see it and say, ‘Yo, somebody’s stolen our code,'” Turner said.

Turner asked the OSU webmaster to “find out more about how that came about,” but he never heard back, and the University never followed up, Turner said.

“I don’t know if the code they used was stolen. They wanted to imitate us, and that’s their business,” Turner said. “We’re flattered.”

In responses to inquiries about its home page design, the University has notified Web site developers of the copyright on Brown’s code. But the University has also directed them to two open source libraries Brown drew on heavily in developing its code, encouraging site developers to employ the same public resources in efforts to “duplicate” the site, Turner said.

Liz Alcalde, coordinator of public relations for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at OSU, said she loved the “really clean application” of Brown’s Web site and looked at the site for inspiration when developing OSU’s.

She said she particularly liked the image-rich design, which allows easy access to information even “for somebody with the attention span of a fruit fly.” The site was launched about a year ago, she said.

Alcalde said she knew of no licensing or copyright issues with the designs of the site, and she added that there are some “pretty significant differences in design.”

Despite those differences, the similarities among the three sites have raised questions in the blogosphere. Eric Stoller, who blogs about higher education and technology, posted last month about the OSU site. Stoller wrote that the cascading style sheet for the OSU site contains the phrase “Why did Pentagram design this at such small width?”

“Why is a comment about Pentagram Inc. (the company that worked with Brown to create the homepage) in the CSS file for the OSU Web site?” Stoller blogged. “Because the OSU site ‘borrowed’ the BU code. Verbatim!”

University officials said they do not have evidence the code was stolen and did not express any intention to pursue the issue further.

A Pentagram representative did not respond to multiple calls from The Herald.

Brown’s Web site isn’t the only one with imitators. Earlier this month, bloggers noted the similarities between Cornell’s homepage and the Web site for China’s Jinan University.

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