Melania Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention went down like a cup of cold tea after it became clear that it plagiarised Michelle Obama's in 2008. Team Trump later admitted to the similarities.
Aside from the embarrassment that has obviously resulted from the imitation, does this incident give rise to any claim by Obama for copyright infringement?
Copyright subsists in material that is written, spoken and sung, including the words of a speech like Obama's from 2008. The Obama team behind Michelle's speech from 2008 would no doubt have copyright in its content. In the US, copyright in written material lasts for the life of the writer plus 70 years. There are some exceptions to copyright infringement e.g allowing fair dealing for news reporting, research, and for certain administrative and public administration purposes. Trump's use of Obama's copyright is unlikely to fall under any of these exceptions.
In considering whether Team Obama would be successful in suing Team Trump for copyright infringement, the Court would have to be satisfied that the speeches were “substantially similar”. Clearly although some identical phrases were used, a comparison of the two speeches does reveal a large number of differences. There would be a question as to whether a sufficiently substantial portion of Obama’s speech had been copied by Trump.
Further, to be successful in bringing a claim for copyright infringement, Team Obama would have to show that it had suffered loss or that Trump had gained from the copying. Either of those seem unlikely, we are particularly doubtful that the incident has had any positive effect on the Trump campaign.
Although it would make for an interesting and entertaining watch, and this is not Team Trump's first brush with copyright infringement, we doubt we will see this one wind up in Court with both teams having much bigger things on their minds.
The furore that has erupted over recent days in respect of Melania Trump’s supposed plagiarising of a speech by Michelle Obama brings to the surface – albeit in an unexpected arena – issues relating to copying, intellectual property, integrity and original thought.