Gordon Brown’s Uncool Blog

I have had my head in WordPress themes recently and was amused to find that the company that provided the blog for No. 10, New Media Maze, incorporated part of a freely available WordPress theme into the blog they sold to No. 10 for a non-trivial sum.  Everyone agrees that the theme they delivered bears little relationship to the original, but the CSS file still credits the original and the directories used to hold the theme are named after the original.

If you go to the No. 10 blog, view the source, and look at the CSS link, you will see:

http://www.number10.gov.uk/wp-content/themes/networker-10/style.css

and if you inspect this file you will see:

/*
Theme Name: NetWorker
Theme URI: http://www.antbag.com
Description: An adsense ready theme from Antbag.com.
Version: 1.0
Author: Anthony Baggett
Author URI: http://www.antbag.com/
*/

Bearing in mind that the fees that NMM are likely to have charged No. 10 for developing this blog, it is not surprising that the original designer of the theme, Anthony Baggett, is none too happy about receiving no credit, and nothing at all except grief; as you can imagine there has been a back and forth between Anthony and NMM.

Now I have worked in the IP business, and you take extra special care not to get contaminated by IP if you want to sell it on, and NMM look soooooooo contaminated—it is being screamed to the whole internet—and would surely have a really hard time establishing that their work is in no way derivative of Anthony’s.  What really astonishes me is that the agency has no awareness of the first law of holes and is continuing to dig, talking about libelous claims and demanding an apology from Anthony.

Given the horrible mess they have made of this they would really do much better to stop being defensive and think about coming to some agreement with Anthony.  Looking over the email correspondence as listed on the NMM website I am horrified at the way they have handled it.  The fact that the stakes are so high should make them less prickly but they are coming across as more prickly than a prickly thing.  I have not read anything anywhere that is wildly out of line with what all the parties are saying.  NMM started with Anthony’s theme and have produced something which is now quite different.  The minutiae of the exact relationship between the two is hardly the issue; everyone agrees they are substantially different, but it looks so much like a derivative work, and the credit remains in the CSS file, so why no compensation and all these damands for apologies, especially as Anthony appears to have taken great care to stick to the facts of the case on his blog?

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2 responses to “Gordon Brown’s Uncool Blog

  1. Stop digging indeed. NMM haven’t done anything *wrong” using someone else’s CSS layout code in their Number 10 theme, they’ve just done it badly, which perhaps they find a harder pill to swallow.

    At what point does a theme cease being the original, and become a new theme? I would argue that using the original layout (2 column, 3 column, top bar, sidebar, footer etc) and even using the same or similar “class” and “id” names, while adding more CSS properties and code, along with changing colours and graphics, is sufficient to claim that “Number 10” is a new theme, not a “rip-off”. Maybe the credit should read “Number 10 theme based on an idea by Anthony Baggett”, but perhaps no more.
    NMM’s problem is that they have made the changes, but sloppily left the theme directory name just as it was downloaded from AntBag’s site. They then even more stupidly left the credit in the style sheet header. Doh!

    No doubt some sleuth would eventually have detected some similarity with Antbag’s code, but NMM could have argued that that’s the way of WordPress and Open Source. That’s why we all love it!

    I can only guess that NMM’s PR skills are as flawed as is their WordPress theme design capabilities.

  2. Exactly! With just the name and attribution in place Anthony can argue that it is right there a derivative piece of work. What would it have cost them to, while maintaining that their work wasn’t derived, to have apologised for the cock-up, added a discrete acknowledgment and made a handsome donation to Anthony in recognition of the obvious inspiration his work provided at the genesis of the project. I am sure No 10 would be more than happy to go along to keep the temperature down.

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