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February 25, 2008
Copying in Political Speech
"I see that politicians have a way of borrowing from each other."
On msnbc.com I found a video of a Meet the Press segment that begins by addressing the issue raised by Mrs. Clinton of whether or not Mr. Obama had plagiarized some political speech lines.
The discussion is partially about political views, but it's also got a few things to say about originality and 'plagiarism' in political speechwriting. As with so many other creative endeavors, this kind of writing does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, it sits within a stream of history, an awareness of what has worked earlier and what has failed, and it copies from the successes of the past. In some sense, speeches are copyrighted works, owned by the creators. When performed (spoken) they're also recognizable works, with added rights beyond the written texts. And yet, it makes no sense to build rigid regimes of ownership and limitation around them - doing so would weaken political discourse. But our conversation around copyright and ownership of IP has become so constrained of late that I don't see people generally willing to acknowledge this. As Obama says, we've "entered the silly season".
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