Sony, a Japanese company, is successor to the British company, EMI, which managed licensing of MLK’s words, by arrangement with the King Estate. Courts have upheld their ownership and distribution rights of the parties. (See Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc., 1999, Fed. District Court of GA.)
The kerfuffle over Melania’s Trump’s speech on Monday night, at the Republican National Convention, and its striking resemblance to parts of Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, involves more than embarrassment. It just could be that Melania owes Michelle a lot of money.
Since everyone is blaming someone else it’d, probably, be good to figure out who is saying what. Due to different narrations of the story, however, from Republican to Republican, sometimes hour-by-hour, it may not be possible to do so with any requisite degree of certainty, but we’ll try.
The Trumps matter most, so here’s Melania Trump’s averment: “I wrote the speech.” She later admitted someone may have glanced at it, over her shoulder, but still claimed authorship. Her husband, Donald, the nominee of the party, spoke, too. He pronounced his wife’s speech marvelous.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s take is that the, allegedly, lifted words were just a small part of Melania’s entire address and that, in any case, weren’t cribbed, just similar expressions of universal sentiments.
Corey Lewandowski, former Trump Campaign Chair, said that the speechwriter should be fired right away and, if involved, as he says is likely, his successor as campaign factotum, Paul Manafort, should resign right away. (Ouch!) Manafort, for his part, and not surprisingly, stands by Mrs. Trump’s claims of ownership.
Reince Priebus, RNC Chairman, has said that, if it were he, he’d fire the speechwriter immediately. The dilemma for Republicans is that there is no exit from this issue. Either Mrs. Trump is a duplicitous liar about penning the speech, or there are, everyone agrees, Bozos lurking in the Trump campaign.
In the Priebus scenario, Melania Trump must be fired, forthwith, because she is the self-credited speechwriter. (Hopefully, for her, she and Mr. Trump do not have a prenuptial agreement.) Lewandowski goes farther down the path and wants, perforce, Melania’s head, and that of Manafort’s, too, his for recklessly negligent supervision of staff. This makes sense, since the gates to Trump Castle will look better with one head on each side of the drawbridge, instead of just one, talking to itself like a mentally challenged zombie.
Chris Christie approached the matter differently. He, essentially, said, “what difference does it make, now.” This thinking invites a look at who actually owns Mrs. Obama’s words, and the ethics of using them without permission. To this end, we consulted Harvard University. Its “Guide to Using Sources” has a detailed description of what constitutes plagiarism.
“In academic writing, it is considered plagiarism to draw any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source in your paper. It doesn't matter whether the source is a published author, another student, a Web site without clear authorship, a Web site that sells academic papers, or any other person: Taking credit for anyone else's work is stealing, and it is unacceptable in all academic situations, whether you do it intentionally or by accident.”
The U.S. Copyright Act provides additional guidance, at section 102.
“Subject matter of copyright: In general Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”
Without belaboring the issue, it’s pretty clear that the equities, here, lie with Michelle Obama. The only remaining task, then, is to determine the damages that Melania Trump’s piggy bank will sustain.
On Amazon, the Kindle version of “I Have a Dream” goes for $10.99. Based on an estimated audience for Melania’s speech of 10.5 million people this means Melania Trump owes Michelle Obama $115.3 million dollars. The Obamas, clearly, won’t need to buy Powerball tickets anytime soon.
Michael Malek is an attorney, writer, photographer. He resides in California.