We all know that the icons for open (folder), save (diskette), and print are widely duplicated from either MS Office or Windows, in innumerable systems. Files such as C:\WINDOWS\system32\SHELL32.dll show typical Windows icons when you set the properties of a file and click Change Icon.
My question is, "Is it improper to copy and use any of Windows/Office's icons in what are essentially the generic aspects of non-competing products?" (I'm not talking about going through MS project and copying 50% of its icons to a competing system.)
I'm not a lawyer but I dated one, and I've read a fair amount from the gov site and brochures. (Stop laughing.) The spirit of intellectual property law is protecting the other party's ability to make an income; the letter of the law (in this case, copyright... not trademark law or patent law) is that one must not use another's time-money-labor as one's own. Not too complicated.
I am one of those Windows-philes (windowphiles) who constantly recommends, even in web apps, that one mimic the artifacts of the ubiquitous environment (Windows/Office) to capitalize on the users' mental model, yada, yada, yada.
Do I cost MS income potential or lost fruits of labor if I use their identical pixels for my Attach icon (paperclip) as seen in Outlook? I argue, and I don't think it's a self-serving rationalization, that 1) I don't; 2) I strengthen—not weaken—their franchise; and 3) they've left me with no engineeringly responsible choice, having strongarmed their way into being the world's first truly global utility? (Consider this: If they get their hands on our car dashboards or nuclear plant consoles and I make an add-on product that doesn't match the model... ..?)