Copyright Conundrums Converge on Gordon Brown

It's not every day that a guy from Mississippi can claim that the government of the United Kingdom is breaching his copyright, but for Anthony Baggett, the past week has been full of them. Apparently, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has a shiny new website, and by appearances, that shine has Mr. Baggett's signature all over it.

Anthony Baggett doesn't really do much web design, or so his site says, but he does occasionally post a Wordpress template or two, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution license. Apparently, his work was good enough to catch the attention of a professional outfit that just happened to be contracted by Number 10 Downing Street — that's the Prime Minister's official residence, the UK version of the White House — to design a new website for the Queen's right-hand man. If reports are correct, the company liked Anthony's theme "NetWorker" so much, they used it to create the PM's site — allegedly, removing any credit for Anthony, but leaving behind a spate of clues — and then pocketed a reported £100,000 for it.

Then, last week, reports began to appear around the blogsphere that something strange was afoot. By Monday, Anthony had been made aware, and news agencies including Britain's The Independent and Sky News were involved. Besieged by journalists seeking comment, Anthony opted to contact the responsible agency and discuss the goings-on privately. Not only was he rebuffed, but it came with what certainly seems a flimsy excuse: that they tried NetWorker, but then built their own theme from scratch, and just "happened" to leave his name and code all over the place. Of course, the PM's office — though perhaps not through as official a channel as the dispatch box — denies any wrongdoing, and apparently will be taking the firm's word as final. It's just too bad Parliament isn't sitting, or there'd be answers aplenty during Question Time.

The truly sad part of the story, sadder than the disrespect reportedly shown to the copyright laws and to permissive licensing, is that somehow, Anthony has come to the conclusion that he's done something wrong, and has apologized publicly for his actions in defense of the integrity of his work. While we are sincerely impressed by the depth of character that demonstrates, we're also outraged that it seems this is how things will end, with the independent creator being left out in the cold and the government and its accomplices riding off into the sunset with someone else's stuff. We're holding out hope that somewhere in the distance, the SFLC, the Commons, the EFF — someone — is busy digging up Anthony's number and drafting whatever one uses to resolve transcontinental governmental copyright chaos.

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