When prospective voters in Novgorod recently received campaign materials from Russia's ruling party for this month's national legislative elections, they had good reason to scratch their heads.
Under the slogan, "Let's Build The Future Together!" was an illustration showing the new era United Russia apparently envisages for the city. It was an image of a Legoland-like scene showing modern high-rises and factories. The scene bore little resemblance to Novgorod, a smallish city midway between Moscow and St. Petersburg that is famous for its 16th-century kremlin, or citadel -- a major tourist attraction on Russia's Golden Ring of historic, riverside towns.
In fact, with its red double-decker bus, a train painted in the colors of Sweden's national railroad, and cars driving on the left side of the road, it didn't look like anywhere else in Russia either.
The Russian Internet was soon busy trying to learn where the picture had come from and why United Russia was using it as part of its campaign for the September 18 vote.
The source was soon discovered. The picture, and a handful of other, similar illustrations that appeared in the United Party's local election publication, turned out to have been purloined from a collection of drawings a Swedish illustrator prepared for a special supplement of Britain's Financial Times newspaper three years ago. The supplement, called The Specialist, targets readers interested in real estate and infrastructure, and the pictures were created to show an idealized urban environment.
The artist, Nils-Petter Ekwall, says he was taken fully by surprise when someone in Russia anonymously contacted him to ask whether he had sold his work to United Russia. The individual attached a scan of the party's publication.
There was a large logo, I didn't recognize what it was, of something like a polar bear with a Russian flag on top," he told RFE/RL on September 12. "I googled it and I discovered that it was actually the largest party in Russia, United Russia, which had used my illustration without telling me or asking me."
Ekwall's surprise prompted a Swedish TV station to ask United Russia if it had used the artist's works without observing his international copyright. A party official in Novgorod, Roman Zolin, confirmed the use but said it was limited to a small number of "postcards."
However, the truth turned out to be somewhat different.
"I got some information from people [in Novgorod] that this magazine is spread all over Novgorod," Ekwall says. "The circulation is 144,000 copies. That's larger than [just some] postcards."
Ekwall says he has alerted the Association of Swedish Illustrators and Graphic Designers and that he expects their legal representatives to take up the case, along with other groups involved in international copyright protection.
But whether United Russia will pay any more attention to his copyright now than it did before remains uncertain.
"Even after it became clear that, in fact, the circulation was much more [than acknowledged], they have not contacted me directly," Ekwall says.
As for why United Russia chose his pictures to illustrate the city of the future, the Russian-language Internet is still far from solving the mystery.
Commenting on one forum, one observer speculated it might be because Ekwall's drawings show a city with no inhabitants, as they detail infrastructure such as buildings, energy-transmission lines, and transportation.
"All just normal for United Russia," the observer quips. "A world where people don't matter".