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Notes on specific Laws - the Zeroth Law Answered

This is where the whole Law thing started:

There is a fairly regular kind of thread that appears here.

It starts should I make an Instructable about insert topic here?

You know what? The answer is yes. Even if nobody else on the site is even vaguely interested in insert topic here, it is probable that somebody with access to the internet, somewhere in the world, will eventually develop an interest in insert topic here and resort to Google. Since this site is googlable (is that a word?), they can end up here, grateful to you and potentially a new and useful member of the site.

So, unless it breaks the guidelines for what is suitable here (basically, Please remember that this is a family site), and you're not just re-inventing the wheel, then the answer to should I? is always yes.

This has become the Zeroth Law:

If an Instructable exactly like yours has not already been posted, then you shall post your Instructable.

Instructables are, after all, the whole point of this site. If nobody posted new Instructables, the site would shrivel and die.

It doesn't matter what you make, as long as it falls within the bounds of "good taste" (define them how you will). What does matter is that you make. If you look at other sites limited to making only one kind of thing (jet engines, chests of drawers, whatever), they tend to have a slow input of new projects, with many variations on a few basic themes posted early in the site's history. Instructables has a daily project count that rarely drops below ten, and sometimes hits thirty.

Addendum to the Zeroth Law

If your Instructable has an identical goal to a pre-existing Instructable, but achieves that goal by a different or improved route, or in a different style, then you shall also post your Instructable.

Why the addendum? Sometimes potential posters worry - there's already a project quite like mine, so should I waste bandwidth with mine? Of course you should! Some people will prefer the first version, but other people will prefer your version - maybe it's easier to read, the photos are better, or they prefer your sense of humour. Maybe you use different raw materials, or use different tools. Either way, unless your Instructable is indistinguishable from an earlier project, you should post your own.


Kiteman, can you please tell me how the Zeroth Law applies to instructables that copy something you've made? and where does one draw a line on the similarity?

For example, if I make an instructable for an origami "paper crane", because no paper crane instructable exists; and then someone creates the exact same instructable after me, but just uses different colored paper, is this acceptable?

I only ask because this has happened to me (just not with a paper crane instructable). I suppose I could look at it as the "sincerest form of flattery", but I don't. I simply fail to see any logic in having multiple origami "paper crane" instructables on this website... 

I also noticed this scenario in the Valentine's Day Challenge. On the first page, there are 2 cards. Both are essentially the same, just one is pink and the other uses a print out of a red heart on white paper. If this is acceptable, then doesn't it open the door to a whole rainbow of cards using the same design? 

Your thoughts on this would be appreciated. :)

The origami crane is a perfect example.

For many years, I could not fold a paper crane. The only instructions I had available were black and white line drawings in a book.

Photos helped, as did texts that used less technical language, but I am a visual/kinaesthetic learner - I often need to see a process happen. So, videos were a boon, but hands obscured the view. I only really got the idea when I found an animated version online - there were no hands to obscure the view, and I could slide the animation back and forth over particuar folds until I got them right.

In every case, identical raw materials were being used to achieve an identical result, but every single form of instruction (instructable) is equally valid, because there is always somebody out there who can grok one form of instruction over another.

Regarding the hearts - in some cases, duplication is inevitable. There are only so many ways a heart can be made into a pop-up shape, and "pixellated/8-bit" is a pervading style online, so it was fairly probable that two would be created. In both cases, I would consider it a safe assumption that the author either did not recall seeing another pop-up pixellated heart card, or had searched the site before creating theirs, found it to be absent, and then gone ahead with publishing (only to be accused of plagiarism as soon as they publlish).

Copying is common here. I have lost count of the projects that openly intend to copy something else that is being sold to the public - lampshades, chairs, clothing, jewellery.

I myself have a number of projects that recreate items I have seen elsewhere. My very first instructable (sherbet) arose from a chemistry practical I found in a school text book.


However, there is still the issue of plagiarism. Where does one draw the line between respectful reproduction and outright copying?

That is hard, and should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Speaking from personal experience, I created an air-horn. The concept is well-known, but my design, using a film cannister, was original. Some time later, a well-known professional Maker reproduced my project in a video. The materials and process used are identical to my original, the angles of the shots are the same as the angles of my photos, and even the arrangement of the parts on the bench are the same.

Yet, YouTube do not consider the video to be a breach of copyright or plagiarism, because my original was stills.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. When I wrote it, I knew there was no easy answer. As you've indicated, there will always be some level of reproduction; and I can accept that when instructables are introducing original content to this community, or offers some improvement to what is already available here. I also appreciate your rationale on the paper crane concept. I do see that there is merit in having some variations in instructions since we all learn through different methods. So your assertion that each case should be dealt with on an individual basis is a valid argument.

I also agree that in the paper card example, there was likely no intention to copy outright another members instructable. Since Valentines Day is fast approaching, there was some inevitability of a member creating something whilst another was doing the same. Perhaps that's where the phrase "great minds think a like" should apply. I did see the accusatory comments on fungus' instructable, and I think its a shame that a conclusion was drawn in that fashion, where a private message would have been sufficient had the member been so concerned.

In regards to YouTube, I am not incredibly surprised to hear this. Their view on plagiarism is often skewed to side with their members even when the evidence would be enough to satisfy most courts of law. To argue that its not the same based on your use of photos versus video demonstrates precisely my reason to pose the question about where we draw the line.

Although its not my place to suggest how this community should be run, I hope that some clarity can be achieved and shared with all members as a general policy. Even as a courtesy, members should be compelled to search this site before posting and give credit to the OP when inspiration is drawn from the work of other members.

Again, thank you for taking the time to answer my question. Have a great day!


10 years ago

Your sons must be so proud to have a father that has laws named for him! So, should someone post a topic asking whether or not they should post an iBle, shall we bash on them, or politely turn them loose here?

Not proud, confused. All the other law-namers they know of are long-dead...

All our lawmakers are dead ? Did someone drop a bomb on Washington DC ?

Oh wait, you said lawnamers as in having a law named after them....still....

My suggestions: . If they are a newbie to the site, maybe an "Of course you should, here's why - ". . If they should know better, just "" ought to get the point across.

Alright. Good luck getting there before me! =D

I think that that kind of ties into the Second law ;-)

Kiteman ze Philosopher. Thanks for making it clear for everybody!!!! BTW...should I post an instructable on...no just kidding.