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Perfidious Albion

Foreigners do have the strangest ideas about England. “British correctness, British morals and British good faith”: that’s what Bulgarian visitor Anna Chaleva believed in. But that was before she met the Conservative Party.

No, this isn’t another tale of the hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade ranting against Eastern Europeans swamping us and stealing the jobs we’re too lazy to do anyway. Ms Chaleva is no Bulgarian brickie or plumber from Plovdiv, but a regular tourist and keen amateur photographer. Indeed so keen is she on both photography and England that she posted some of her work on the Pictures Of England website. And so good is her work that the St Albans Conservative Association decided to use two of her pictures in its newsletter In Touch during the May council election campaign.

Unfortunately what they didn’t do was pay for the pictures, or even bother to ask for permission to use them: they simply swiped what they needed from the web. When Chaleva discovered the theft she approached St Albans Conservatives, upon which the Party of Law And Order promptly passed the buck, referring her to Peter Johnston at Future Marketing, who publish the 40,000-circulation newsletter on their behalf. Johnston in turn tried to blame Pictures of England, claiming that they had failed to respond to his request for permission to use the pictures.

This is pretty odd reasoning: a web-host ignores a request for material, therefore all and sundry are allowed to help themselves. Presumably if we mail Future Marketing for a taxi and they don’t respond Johnston won’t mind if we simply take his car. But even ignoring his twisted logic there’s something else wrong with his story. The copyright symbol under each of Chaleva’s pictures opens a link to her private email address, so a cynic might be forgiven for feeling that Johnston is being a little economical with the truth.

Chaleva, now describing herself as “bitterly disappointed” in the Brits, has suggested a fee of £300 per picture. Johnston has countered by offering what he presumably thinks is the going rate for photography in the former Eastern Bloc: £2 a piece.

St Albans party chairman David Walker declares that he has “acted honourably and innocently” and that he’s been assured by – wait for it – a Mr Johnston of Future Marketing that he’s not liable. There’s nothing like good legal advice when it comes to intellectual property, eh? Johnston for his part says he is looking forward to settling the dispute with Chaleva in court.

And doubtless so is Ms Chaleva: she’s a lawyer.

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