Number 10, WordPress and The Commons

This is a post largely related to the response that David Smith of New Media Maze posted yesterday regarding the farce of their web site development for Number 10 Downing Street.

The story so far, for any new readers, can be found here, here and here. And do follow the links in those posts to the various other sources to get a broader picture.

(David, if I am wrong anywhere, I assume you will let me know…)

What concerns me greatly about this whole fiasco is that New Media Maze are still (as I write this at least) basically trying to act as though they’ve done nothing really wrong and everything is fine. I think it isn’t.

David’s post seems to be an attempt to convince the reader that because they changed lots of things from the original template, their requirement to appropriately attribute the original work is negligible and the lines they forgot to remove left in the stylesheet are sufficient.

His post also, to me at least,  indicates a rather poor appreciation of what Open Source, “The Commons” and the new collaborative world in which we all live really mean.

First then, the WordPress theme.

The simple fact is this: the Number 10 website which New Media Maze claim to have designed is based on original work by somebody else. How much of the original work remains in the design is really not important, although almost all of the original stylesheet is still present within the gargantuan ~4000 lines of the new site’s file. (Incidentally, who on earth designed a stylesheet like that? I don’t recall ever seeing a 65kb stylesheet before. Maintenance and alterations are going to be fun…). And we also saw that the index.php file was from the original source as they had left the comment in it.

Irrespective of the legal position New Media Maze believe themselves to be in, the right (as in decent, proper, common) practice in these circumstances is to attribute the work in a suitable manner. Such as a simple line somewhere on the site saying something like: “This website is based on an original idea by…”.

I’m sure you all get the idea. And being a “Full Service New Media Agency” I’m sure NMM could come up with something suitably profound.

Most people on the Internet have no idea what a CSS is, how to find or read one, and why should they to be frank? There was a visible copyright notice in the original theme. It has been removed.

The continuation of this farce, by NMM is not helping their position, or their client’s, one little bit. To be honest, by continuing to bleat on about how little of the original work was used rather than just doing the right thing, makes them look like [insert your prefered derogatory phrase here]. My personal choice would be “a bunch of cowboys”.

On a secondary, but related note, an impression I get from reading David’s statement makes me wonder if Downing Street are actually running WordPress or are in fact running some uberpress code that has been made ultra-secure and “top secret”. If I am wrong about this please let me know, it is just an assumption on my behalf. What version of WP are they running? We can’t tell as they took out the meta-tag.

If they have hacked the code to make it more secure, I hope that those modifications have been provided back to the WordPress community so everyone gets the benefit. If they haven’t, Downing Street are not running WordPress, but a fork. They are now stuck with a version which will get harder and harder to maintain, and will ultimately be less secure than the publicly developed OSS code that has the world’s eyes watching and improving it every day…. I hope I am wrong and the backend is a regular WordPress release but if it isn’t, then Downing Street really have been sold a pup and are not using Open Source code at all.

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  • Jack says:

    From reading NMM’s response I was a touch baffled how they were trying to paint themselves as the wronged party. They are NOT! They’ve admitted to copying at least some CSS code so they should abide by the licence of the copied work.

  • dave smith says:

    Ok so the article I wrote was quite lengthy, so i’ll summise and that’s the last you’ll hear from me:

    1. The only file that was drawn upon from Ant’s theme was the css file. Ant accepts this fact:

    2. Under Ant’s theme license (CCL), there was no requirement to attribute the work to him in the footer.

    3. Under the CCL, he was correctly attributed in the CSS file that was used.

    4. Therefore we have abided by the license of Ant’s work.



  • JonB says:

    I can’t understand, at all, how ANYONE could believe its OK to remove attribution if that is part of the usage grant. Did they not understand the term derivative work? Maybe the real problem is they didn’t take an Ethics course along with their ‘Surly Dweeb’ courses at university.

    I also can’t fathom why the appropriate counsels to the PM’s office didn’t perform ‘due diligence’ before they decided to write this notice –

    whomever is responsible for that should be sacked.

    Of course I’m a stupid Colonial and what could I know?


  • Alan Lord says:

    @Jack, Yep. They nicked his stuff and no one has denied that. How they end up getting an apology ( from the creator of the original work is beyond me. But in reading through the comments (especially the one from “Dad”) then I certainly know who has come out of this smelling of roses and who smells like — well something very smelly indeed.

    @Dave, it may be your last word on this. I doubt it will be mine, or others…

    @Roy, great idea! Thanks for the notice.

    @JonB, I completely agree. They’ve nicked his work. I can’t see how Downing Street can continue with this site now. Even though NMM believe they are in compliance with the law, and they may well be for all I know (but don’t they say “the law is an ass?”) they are certainly NOT in compliance with best practice and common decency.

  • Kevin says:

    @Dave : Considering all the time you must be spending posting and monitoring the blogsphere and defending your position, I think it might have been more cost effective for you to write your own theme.

    Hindsight eh?

    IMHO you should either change the theme to one you have written from scratch or play nice and attribute the original author in a reasonable way. IF you don’t want his name associated with your project then contact him and arrange a special license. Oh, you might have to share some of your spoils, which it seems you’re not so keen to do with anyone other than your legal team.

  • […] out of 24 files in the original theme package, only three files have been removed. If you look here in the comments from my post of yesterday, you can read what Dave Smith of NMM said: 1. The only […]

  • we are a little lost as we thought “Open Source” doesn’t just mean access to the source code. Per Open Source Legal Definition: The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with free Redistribution which means that the “license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.” and “The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.” There is much more but we are confused as to why this issue ever came up at all. Was the WordPress Theme not Open Source and we are missing something?

    • Alan Lord says:

      Hi there.

      Well, the issue wasn’t about them using the theme. It was that they had taken it, modified it and not provided any attribution for it. The two important lines from this post are:

      The simple fact is this: the Number 10 website which New Media Maze claim to have designed is based on original work by somebody else.


      Irrespective of the legal position New Media Maze believe themselves to be in, the right (as in decent, proper, common) practice in these circumstances is to attribute the work in a suitable manner. Such as a simple line somewhere on the site saying something like: “This website is based on an original idea by…”.

      Open Source is really a marketing term that covers a whole raft different but similar licenses. Most, if not all of them, whilst allowing the recipient full access to the source also respects the originator’s copyright and requires that the original work’s pedigree and license terms are complied with when you modify and redistribute.

      The real issue with this was that a commercial company, had taken a template design freely donated by someone else and used it but provided any credit to the original author. And, they had altered not included his copyright notice on the site and in fact IIRC chnage the copyright to be that of the Crown. This is not “proper” and could probably be challenged in the courts although IANAL.

      Good question though and thanks.

      PS: I had to check your website first just to make sure this wasn’t spam – you will probably get a lot of traffic with a name like that!

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