IP Branding & Social Media

How close is too close? Did Melania Trump's speech breach copyright?

Posted by on 4 Aug 2016

While “copying may be the sincerest form of flattery,” social media ensures that “cheaters never prosper.” Take for example, the recent Trump saga - this time involving hopeful First Lady, Melania, whose speech on the opening night of the Republican National Convention raised some eyebrows…

For those in the audience who felt a twinge of déjà vu, Twitter came to the rescue; users taking to their keyboards to point out some close similarities between Melania’s speech with that of one made by none other than current First Lady, Michelle Obama.

Take the extracts from both speeches below for example. 

Eight years earlier at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama said:

And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them.

And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

And now, swing to Melania’s speech in 2016…

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 me to show the values and morals in my daily life. That is the lesson that I continue to pass along to our son.

And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. [Cheering] Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

While the speeches are not identical, they are clearly substantially similar.  

Initially the Trump team denied all charges levelled by Twitter users and the wider community regarding plagiarism. Melania said that she wrote the speech herself with as little help as possible. She was supported by Trump’s Senior Communications Advisor, Jason Miller, who released the following statement in the immediate aftermath:

It took 36 hours for them to acknowledge, thanks to irrefutable proof  (we’ve blogged previously about the longevity of material online) that someone had “made a mistake.”

Staff writer and author of the now infamous speech, Meredith McIver, penned a letter  explaining the cause of her error and offered her resignation which was refused on the grounds that "people make innocent mistakes and that we learn and grow from these experiences."

In Australia, copyright doesn’t protect ideas, concepts, techniques or styles but it does protect the way in which they are conveyed and is automatic from the moment something is put into a tangible form, and there are serious implications for infringement – including damage to the authenticity and credibility of your brand – as Melania is discovering and as set out below :

Immediately after, the controversy surrounding Melania’s speech and subsequent finger pointing detracted from the Convention itself. Denials from Melania and Jason showed a distinct lack of accountability and process in checking the facts before responding to accusations – further damaging credibility.  

Trump has tried to make light of the issue, tweeting "Good news is Melania's speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press!" however it remains to be seen if the American public is willing to move on.

So, in short – if you’re questioning whether something you’re producing is a little too close to another’s work then it’s best to provide credit where credit is due. If you don’t, you may be lucky and only experience short-term ramifications but do you really want to risk it? It takes just moments to damage the goodwill and reputation that your brand has established – not to mention the potential legal and financial implications if you’re caught passing off  someone else’s work as your own.

If you would like to find out more about protecting your intellectual property or taking action against possible infringements, or you would like to speak with one of the lawyers in Coleman Greig's Brand Protection team, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us on 02 9895 9230, or via info@colemangreig.com.au.

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