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Melania Trump, Leo Burnett, and Thoughts on Plagiarism

Plagiarism is essentially theft

In the wake of the heated American political debate between the red and blue parties, a frenzied nightmare turned many to fuse their dissatisfaction against the wife of the Republican presidential candidate, Melania Trump, for plagiarising parts of her speech.

Speaking in front of a nationwide audience, with a smile that glowed throughout the arena, she uttered: “From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life.” Certainly, her mother had passed on sound advice.

On the contrary, a Twitter user identified that parts of her speech were taken from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech. The media went ballistic after the discovery and cracked hard on her for plagiarising. As it turned out, Ms McIver, an in-house staff writer at the Trump Organization, stepped into the spotlight to admit her mistake for “inadvertently leaving portions of Michelle Obama’s speech in the final draft of the transcript,” as reported in The New York Times. She offered her resignation, which Mr Donald Trump however rejected.

The recent RNC (Republican National Convention) disaster sets itself as a parable on plagiarism. It’s frowned upon when someone’s caught, as though one has committed adultery or theft. As a matter of fact, it is theft. However, the term plagiarism is often confined to matters related to one’s work or ideas, where the act involves copying and disclaiming the act. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary outlines explicitly that to plagiarise is “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words or another) as one’s own; to use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; and to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source”.

A similar event happened on our shores. in which filmmaker Tan Chui Mui accused Leo Burnett for plagiarism. The agency had released a web-film, for its client, Petronas, in conjunction with the Chinese New Year celebrations, that shared certain key elements to Tan Chui Mui’s original script – one that she initially pitched to the agency two years before, but was turned down.

Copyright laws in Malaysia protect all forms of expression, be it in writing or recording. For this reason, a creator needs to commit his or her ideas to a form in order to be copyrighted. An idea remains a thought unless it’s either written or recorded. It’s absurd to claim someone has stolen an idea when there isn’t any tangible evidence to refute it. Mistakes like this often happen, especially in the film industry where I work in. Hence, it is crucial that one is committing one’s ideas to writing, followed by copyrighting it, before pitching it to others. You can look into my article on copyright to know more about it.

How do you know when one commits plagiarism? Plagiarism.org outlines the following criteria, “Turning in someone’s else work as your own; copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit; failing to put a quotation in quotation mark; giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation; changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit; copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not.”

At the end, with the advent democratisation of technology, it becomes easy for one to publish ideas and thoughts. It also becomes even easier to steal. However, it is good ethics to quote and seek permission (in a written form) before embarking on using someone else’s work. This practice not only makes one ethical, but enforces oneself in a circle of trust and credibility.

Selvan Ramsamy
Selvan Ramsamy
Selvan is a filmmaker with the passion for literature and philosophy. He, who is constantly hungry to learn new things and experience different culture, would love to one day be able to join the band of legendary storytellers.

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