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Using Web Tutorials

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An interesting topic came up between a few friends today about people who follow web tutorials and then claim that the product of those tutorials as their own. This made me wonder about the general attitude out there, so of course — as a curious git and a tutorial writer — the logical option was to blog about it.

When you follow a tutorial, do you consider the end result your own, or do you consider it something that effectively belongs to the author of the tutorial?

Related post: “I wrote my own CMS!1!!”

Jem Turner jem@jemjabella.co.uk +44(0)7521056376

49 comments so far

  1. Breanna said:

    That’s a good question and it’ll be interesting to see what the answers are like. If the tutorial is copied exactly, like a PHP script/snippet or Photoshop image, then I don’t think it could be considered your own. If it just teaches something as simple as how to make CSS links, for example, then I think the end result would be your own. I guess it really all depends on the tutorial, what’s being taught, and how it’s used.

  2. Amelie said:

    You stole my blog idea! No, copying a tutorial word for word is NOT your own work. The tutorial is meant to teach you how to do something, it’s not there to do it for you.

  3. Katy said:

    hmm, complicated. if it’s something small like, ooh, a simple image uploader script then there’s only so many ways of doing that anyway. But if it’s something more complex like a weblog or something then simply copy-pasting the code and claiming it as your own without bothering reading through it, figuring out what’s going on and changing stuff to actually make it your own? lazy. Also, if you’re going to do that at least change a few minor things so it’s less obvious. Default text, filenames, etc

  4. Aaron said:

    If I follow a tutorial, the product I get from the tutorial is not something I consider my own. However, after learning it and applying it on my own (without using the tutorial) I would consider it my work.

  5. Amelie said:

    I didn’t see your entry until after I’d wrote mine, bitchface :P Likewise, but still… u stolez frm me!11 i h8 u!1!11!1 Mine is dated after yours though, people will think I copied you… Hmmm Just for the record, I have no problem if people want to use a tutorial “as is”, but if they do that then they should be prepared to credit the tutorial. They have basically taken somebody else’s work and claimed it as their own. Obviously people who use a tutorial to learn something (i.e. they use the basic principles and perhaps acknowledge the source, but don’t copy the example code word for word) are absolutely fine in my book, after all, that’s what tutorials are for :)

  6. Hillarie said:

    If you use the whole tutorial, I’d think it was copying. Just like viewing people’s source to see how something works. If it’s actually for learning, no problem!

  7. HannaPai said:

    Well as people have said, if it’s like “this is how you make link change color when you hover” then if you really want to credit somebody credit those who invented css. But basically if I use some tutorial (for example you contact form), I didn’t write it (and it won’t become mine if I decide that I rather have textarea left from “comments” instead of right or something like that), so it’s not mine. For me it’s obvious that I credit. But I know it’s not obvious for everyone.

  8. Shaun said:

    Depending on how in-depth the tutorial is and how many people use the same code. If it was a line or two of coding to do a minor thing that everyone else can do but I was silly enough to forget, I usually still copyright to myself. Otherwise, I credit the writer of the tutorial somewhere on the site.

  9. Julie said:

    I don’t consider it my own. For example, when I learn how to use PHP includes (OMG!! thatz so cool!), I wouldn’t immediately have posted a tutorial on them. Note that I wouldn’t do it now either because there are too many of these tutorials and I don’t see what I would add up. I will write a tutorial only if a) I made it myself (like writing a function in PHP that would sump up a series of actions to simplify things) and/or b) I have learned it so long ago, can now do it entirely by heart and am fully able to explain it correctly to someone else. Whatever I do, I will always use my own words. However, if I see a tutorial on some other site, I won’t just write my own version. I’ll simply not write such a tutorial (unless the one I’ve seen is absolutely crappy). Note that I’m talking about the not-yet-uploaded version of my site and not the current one. I haven’t updated the content for so long that I can’t even remember what’s on it. Surely a bunch of outdated stuff I would be ashamed of still having for content.

  10. Kaia said:

    It can depend. There are some strict tutorials that are how to make this and following strictly step-by-step a process to make a certain product. That is not the product of the person following the tutorial. Then there are tutorials that are a bit more open-ended; usually they are step-by-step also but leave suggests to the tutorial follower in creating their own creative products (of the tutorials). In my own experience I generally use tutorials to get a general idea of how to accomplish something and then take that knowledge and mess around to create my own methods and thus my own work.

  11. Jack said:

    If I just copied the example code without changing it at all? No, I wouldn’t claim that it was mine or offer it for download or whatever. On the other hand, while I would almost certainly credit the tutorial, I wouldn’t necessarily say it was wrong to simply not credit it, as long as someone wasn’t actively claiming it.

  12. Sarah said:

    I’m proud of my result and the effort I put in to get the result, but I do credit the tutorial when I talk about it. Without the tutorial, I probably wouldn’t have discovered the method used and I wouldn’t have come up with the same result I did. The tutorial definitely deserves credit when discussing the work. Now, if the tutorial is a minor part in a much larger original whole, I can see omitting mention of the tutorial. If I used a tutorial on how to smooth out a nose tip but I drew an entire person by hand, I wouldn’t worry too much about crediting the person/tutorial that helped me with the end of the nose.

  13. Kimmie said:

    Have you ever used a cookbook? Did you use the recipe word for word? Did you claim the work that went behind making that dinner? Have you ever watched DYI network? Did you ever copy down a recipe from Food Network? Have you ever made a bird house following the directions out of a book? Or sewn a pattern that you bought at the craft store? You could mention the whole, “Well I paid for that book/pattern…” But you could always go into a public library and copy down the instructions for free. Then you didn’t pay a dime, and yet people seem to feel it is acceptable for you to claim the work for your own. Honestly, if you don’t want people copying the code word for word, it would make sense to not write tutorials. If you’re that obsessed with getting credit for something people aren’t even paying for, I wouldn’t write tutorials. The fact is though, if you put a DYI activity out there on the net, and don’t charge people for it, chances are they aren’t going to give you credit. If you charge people for it, they’ll find someone else with a similar tutorial who isn’t charging a dime. And in the more general case, we all know most tutorials are copy paste from another site, so who do you really credit? The site you found it on? The site they found it from? The site that the next level site found it from? What about ones that web authors find in books? Even if you were to just be inspired by something in a book, how much of the tutorial idea is yours and how much came out of the book? Who deserves the credit? It’s too hard to say because almost none of us are original inventors. Invent something brand new, and you deserve the credit. Invent something that’s been done before, and who’s to say how much credit you deserve? This isn’t necessarily what I do, but how I feel.

  14. Josh said:

    I guess it’s sort of like when you do a research report for school. You have to cite your sources and credit them for the information you learned from them. But, it’s also sort of different with a tutorial, because you’re learning to actually do something. Not quoting information. I suppose a nod of the head to the tutorial is the right thing to do. You still put in effort and time (hopefully) to learn how to do this, and then execute it. But, the tutorial still deserves some recognition as the source of the knowledge. Basically: pat yourself on the back, but don’t forget that you learned how to do something from someone else’s work.

  15. Stephanie said:

    The end result is your own. The tutorial and its author are like teachers, and in school, when you learn how to build something per se, that product is your own. You credit the teacher for helping you, but you get the credit for producing whatever you made.

  16. Skye said:

    It depends on how much you change. I mean, I used the tutorials at DDG but those were intended for blogs. I took what they had there, messed with it and worked with it until I figured out how everything worked, and then used what I’d learned (with theirs as a reference) to create my own. On one hand, I don’t say “Hey, I made my own CMS!” but at the same time I didn’t just take theirs. 95% of the scripting was at least edited in some way, shape, or form because copy/paste just doesn’t work and a lot of it was greatly edited/expanded. I think THAT is the whole point of tutorials. However, if they did merely copy/paste with no changes, then they didn’t make it on their own. So, I don’t think that people should take full credit but, at the same time, they should get credit for what they did do. Eg. I made this with the help of…

  17. Rachel said:

    @Stephanie – It’s a good point, but when you’re copy/pasting things and barely even editing, is that really considered learning? To me, if you’d like to use the whole teacher/student reference, it would be like a teacher writing an example essay, a student copying the idea, changing a sentance or two and claiming it as their own.

  18. Linda said:

    catsinsweaters: You know what makes me nervous? catsinsweaters: When Jem comments on BoW. meninsweaters: really? why? catsinsweaters: I’m all *bites nails* meninsweaters: I love jem, she’s witty catsinsweaters: Because she’s all “PANTS! PANTS! PANTS!” catsinsweaters: and I’m all, “I worship your gloriousness!”

  19. Rachel said:

    @Kimmie – You make it seem like crediting is pointless. And there are vast differences between the things you used as an example and what Jem is talking about. Specifically, a cookbook. That’s something you MUST copy completely or less why would you even bother? However, particularly with something like the build-a-blog tutorial, there are numerous things you can add, change, edit and make your own. People have put their own code snippets in to make them customized and put very hard work into what they do. Can that not be called their own? I really don’t think this is a black and white issue (as in, there is no “grey” area) because there are so many different things to consider. But I hardly think copying and pasting a tutorial without even putting effort into the end product is something you can call your own.

  20. Kiera said:

    I guess I consider the end result to be my own because I’m the one that made it and usually I change things up a bit to suit my design taste. However, for the person who was kind and helpful enough to share their knowledge with me, especially unique, one-of-a-kind tuturials, I have no problem giving them credit.

  21. Amber said:

    Well it is your own because you were the one that actually did it; I’ve read a tutorial before, tried to follow it through, and failed miserably. It’s just teaching you a technique; the technique isn’t yours, so normally you modify it to suit your needs. I think then it becomes your work.

  22. Dave said:

    Definitely your own. If you think of it like a cup of tea. You use the teabag, follow the instructions and in the end you get your own cup of yummy tea (and despite what people say it *is* acceptable to stick out ones pinky while drinking tea). Seriously though it might be somebody else’s idea but it’s your creation, right?

  23. Jessica said:

    I thought you should always give credit, even if you end up changing everything at some point? I mean you should give credit… if it wasn’t for that tut, you wouldn’t have figured it out right? Even if you do end up writing your own tut, you should say something like I figured it out because of so & so’s tut… but that is me. And I don’t always follow the credit thing but because I forget to add the link to my spiffy credit page.

  24. Vixx said:

    The Furious Angels are together on this. However, if I used a tutorial it would be one) credited and two) I wouldn’t re-create it and present it as my own. V xx

  25. Lew said:

    I’m uncomfortable with making the engine of a site so visible. Does it matter who wrote what and how or when? A website should simply work regardless of what is going on behind it. Why advertise the system used, be it something like wordpress or something custom built, it can only expose possible vulnerabilities. As for ripping off another’s code, I say let the baby have its bottle. Somebody somewhere was first to write a function for this that and the other. I know I learn a lot by looking at other peoples’ code. Profiting from it is a different matter.

  26. Tracey said:

    I honestly don’t think we can compare tutorials to recipes and teabags. Personally, I would give credit, whether I modified it or not. Copying and pasting is definitely not what I would call my own, but even if I had changed something, I’d still want to give credit to the original creator.

  27. Paddy said:

    It really depends on the tutorial. I mean, if it’s a photoshop tutorial, then yeah – I consider the end result my own (unless of course I start with their base image aswell). Actually interesting you brought it up. I just used a tutorial to show my cPanel bandwidth on my website (just so I don’t have to login to check) and I editted it and made it so I can see my diskspace aswell. (It was from that GoodPHPTutorials website). I don’t know whether to credit them or not… or if I can distribute my edited version or not because I’m not sure if it’s my work or not!

  28. Lemm said:

    I think it’s important to credit the author. Most of what I’ve done I’ve figured out has been by peoples tutorials…I wouldn’t have a clue otherwise. I think there are a lot of people out there who have benefited or learnt in some way form someone else’s hard work, so it’s only right to give them that acknowledgment.

  29. Han said:

    It depends what type of tutorial is is. Does it count if its a photoshop tutorial and yours comes out completely different?

  30. Kat said:

    I’d say the end product of a tutorial is your own. Tutorials share learning, not products. Tutorials teach you how to make your own stuff, they don’t hand finished products to you on a platter like free downloads etc. You can credit where you learnt your new skills if you like but I don’t think you have absolutely *have* to if you don’t want to.

  31. Jem said:

    Tutorials teach you how to make your own stuff, they don’t hand finished products to you on a platter like free downloads etc. …there are hundreds of tutorials that give you pages of code? This is not handing you a finished product?

  32. Annie said:

    I think that if you used your knowledge to write your own tutorials then you can consider it your own work but, saying that, you can’t claim that the code as yours. If someone decided to just copy someone else’s work then they should credit the original producer of the tutorial.

  33. Kat said:

    Oh we’re talking about *those* kinda tutorials? Lol! In that case I don’t think those are really tutorials. A *real* tutorial IMO guides you through how to do something yourself with instructions and explanations. Otherwise it’s just someone bragging about their code. Coz if someone’s tutorial on how to make a PHP photo gallery consists of Step 1. Copy this piece of code and save it as blahblah.php; Step 2. Copy this piece of code and save it as yadayada.php, Step 3. Upload both files to your site and Step 4. Open blahblah.php in your favourite browser and voila! You have a PHP photo gallery! I personally wouldn’t call it a tutorial. But that’s just me forcing my snooty definitions onto the world :-P

  34. Rachael said:

    I read tutorials to learn about the “process” and how I can apply that process to my own needs. Most of the time though, I go for the snippets and then edit them to my requirements, because I’m lazy like that…

  35. Hayley said:

    I don’t think I’ve ever followed a tutorial to the letter and then put the results up for public consumption but if I did, credit would go to the writer of the tutorial since all you’ve basically done is copy their code. I mean, I followed the tutorial in Bulletproof Web Design by Dan Cederholm, typed the code out from the book, made similar sorts of graphics, but I didn’t then upload it, it was an exercise to get the code into my head and help me remember the techniques. If what you’ve produced is the same as what any reasonably competent person could make by following the tutorial, then part of the copyright should remain with the provider of the tutorial. If it’s a technique that you’ve implemented (like..er…making black and white photos more effective with contrast and levels and stuff), that required original thought on your part, it’s yours. At least, that’s how it is in my head.

  36. Tara said:

    Hmm that’s really interesting, I don’t know really. I would be thinking along the lines of a photoshop tutorial but if its showing you how to do something like say, line art. It’s giving you instructions but you’re doing the work and if you mess up it’s your work that looks weird, similiarily if it comes out amazing it’s you who did it. The person who wrote the tutorial didnt hold your hand while you draw out all the lines? In these cirucumstances though i would say it is your work but it’s polite and generous to pass on the link as to how you learned to do something so other people can learn too. So in that case giving credit is the courteous thing to do.

  37. Ian said:

    Well for me I guess it depends what the outcome is. I always give credit to the tutorial, but if I followed the tutorial exactly w/o any modifications I credit the tutorial exclusively, on the other hand if I followed the tutorial but also modified and expanded on what the tutorial said to create something a bit different in the end, then I usually credit it like “I wrote/coded it following [insert tutorial name here].

  38. Saya said:

    I claim it as mine if I added enough of my own ‘stuff’ to it but put a “with help from…”. Is that good enough? I hope so…

  39. Chris Allen said:

    I have to agree with what the two FF’s said really, because I fel that crediting someone for the effort they took into making the tutorial is a must!

  40. Kristin said:

    I give credit to the tutorials I’ve used no matter what the tutorial is. For example, I’m working on re-doing my website and I used quite a few tutorials from your site, tutorialtastic. I not only put credit in the code of the actual site, but I also put it on the main page and in the FAQ. No way am I going to take credit for something like that. :)

  41. Carly said:

    Wow that’s a great point… Never thought of it before. I guess when you follow something and put the effort into doing it, you feel like you have ownership over it. There must be different levels of this though: copy and pasting a box full of code from a website does not constitute claiming you have written a CMS, as Amelie points out! But following techniques and putting together ideas from a range of sources to create something is a little different. If I don’t credit something (like sites that show how to code wordpress blogs if I need help) I add it to my resource page. Good post, really got me thinking!….

  42. Sara said:

    i honestly think that it depends on the tutorial. if you are going to use something like your ‘centering trick’ on tutorialtastic, then it isn’t yours, but if you read a tutorial, and go to your code and write a code from what you learned, then no it isn’t ‘stealing’ a code…

  43. Stephen said:

    To start with: I’m cross-posting this to Amelie’s site because it’s just SO ironic that you two both have the same post about why you shouldn’t copy :P Sort yourselves out, girls! As for the copying of code from the internet – that’s kind of what it’s there for, isn’t it? I’ve been a programmer for longer than I care to admit, and if I can find a routine online that someone has already done which will save me a day or a week of work, then you can be sure that I’ll use it! I check the license, credit where appropriate, and usually rework some of it myself, but the internet is wonderful because it lets us all share stuff and not each have to reinvent the wheel. Think also about who is doing this: these are probably beginners, proud of themselves for getting anything up at all, and you should encourage them. The best way to learn is by example – we all did when we were starting – and by positive reinforcement. Next time they do something, they’ll try to tweak some of the code, or combine stuff from two places, or whatever and they’re on their way to doing their own thing. If the site has a “credit the source” request/requirement then they should do so, but there remains work that the person has put into their site. They had to dig around, find stuff they wanted, understand enough of the process to get a site up – things you don’t even think about but which to a beginner is a huge step forwards. Don’t damn the beginners – you were one once yourself.

  44. Jem said:

    @Stephen: There’s no irony to the fact that Amelie and I posted similar topics – she was one of the “friends” I mentioned that were discussing it beforehand. That said.. I’m sorry, but I fail to see the relevance of your comment in response to MY post? I asked a simple question. You answered MY question in three words: “credit where appropriate”. The rest, as far as I’m concerned, is superfluous bullshit.

  45. Chans said:

    I can never look at any product I created using a tutorial as my own. I’m learning to draw digitally and even though I drew those things I can never get rid of the feeling that I drew them off a tutorial so they’ll never be mine.

  46. Echo said:

    When you follow a tutorial, do you consider the end result your own, or do you consider it something that effectively belongs to the author of the tutorial? I haven’t strayed from PHP/MySQL tutorials in a long time, so I usually deal with code. That’s why this question is fantastic. In certain situations, dealing with languages can be tricky when it comes time to assign credit. So I look at it this way: because it’s a language, it’s like dealing with words, phrases, paragraphs, a speech, journal post… you get the picture. I’ve followed several of your tutorials. Is the end result mine? No. At this point it’s still yours. (Hopefully that will change.) In the interim, I may have sat here, typed out code you or others provided, messed up, had to go back (I remember eventually giving up and using ctrl+c and ctrl+v when I got to the regular expression matches in your mail form – I kept screwing up the characters), asked or searched for help, fixed things, then finally got it to work. But what I’ve really done is basically type out something you (or another author) said. I didn’t “say” it that way. I’ve quoted someone else, even if I don’t use every single word or added in more “quotes” from other authors. The end result works, but it works because the author(s) worded it in such a way that it would. Have I learned anything? You bet! In my eyes, that still doesn’t make it mine. The end result will be mine when I’m confident I can sit down and write it using my own “words” or in this case, my own code. And that, my friend, is the hard part. It’s frustrating when you don’t yet know a language well enough to use it without a lot of assistance. ‘Tis a wonderful thing I – and the rest of the Internet – have you ;)

  47. Becky said:

    I know I’m a bit late and this is probably a bit off topic, but I felt like posting it now so nyah. If I use a tutorial then it is credited, my credits page could probably use a bit of brushing up, however. What really irks me is the lack of credit today. Hardly anyone, well anyone of importance really, credits what blogging platform they use (even if it’s terribly obvious that it is WordPress, a link somewhere would be nice) or what they’ve used with it (plugins, patterns, etc.). I spent half the night looking for something only to find it and decide I didn’t want it anyway, it would’ve saved me a lot of trouble if the bloody idiot who used it originally had linked it somewhere on their site.

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