Did an agency really steal a filmmaker’s idea for a commercial?

by - 04:36

Recently, filmmaker Tan Chui Mui took to Facebook alleging that a popular Petronas advertisement titled Rubber Boy shot by Leo Burnett was originally her idea. She said that the characters and major plots in Rubber Boy were very similar to a story idea she once pitched. She even started the hashtag #LeoBurnettPlagiarism.

The advertising agency recently submitted the commercial for Cannes Lions 2016, which was what prompted Tan to say something about the matter after being quiet all this while. Tan had seen the commercial when it first came out during Chinese New Year. (Read Tan’s detailed chain of events at http://ift.tt/290QoQ1).

James Yap, Leo Burnett’s creative director, however, said in his own Facebook post that the story in Rubber Boy was inspired by “a personal family story.” (http://ift.tt/28WAwlB).

OOn June 27, Leo Burnett released this official media statement to Marketing Magazine: “Leo Burnett does not condone or endorse plagiarism of any kind. Credit is always given, wherever it is deserved. The allegation that Rubber Boy is based on plagiarised material or script is incorrect.”

It concluded by saying: “As such, we reiterate that the allegations of plagiarism are baseless. Nevertheless, we have reached out to the party making the allegations and await their response.”

While Tan and the CEO of the agency have communicated since the debacle, both parties have yet to set up a proper meeting to trash out this matter.
Datuk Johnny Mun, president of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents (4As), said that it’s tough to come to a conclusion on this matter.

“Everybody has life experiences and chances are, we share some of those experiences. In this case, on the one hand, there is a claim of an idea. On the other, there is the execution. … And right now, the (chatter) have all been done on social media, so it’s hearsay as there is no published proof. We weren’t there at the initial presentation to know for sure who to believe. So it’s unfair to judge either way,” Mun said when contacted.

He went on to say that if either party feels they have a propriety claim, they can always take it to court as a civil case.
According to Mun, if there is a valid complaint of plagiarism and is lodged with 4As, the association will look into it as it has a strict rule against such matter.

Early this year, it was reported that 4As withdrew the Kancil Awards won by Dentsu Utama after an investigation showed similarities between the agency’s published ads to other existing works.
“We can’t make the call here unless there is a formal complaint,” said Mun.

In an e-mail interview, Tan admitted that plagiarism is hard to prove. “It is more a moral crime, than a legal one. And it is a waste of our time and talent to try to sue anyone.” But she hopes the outcome from this will ensure “the creative agency respects the creative people more. At least value our ideas.”

While she said she is not seeking monetary compensation, Tan hopes a change in the practice within the creative industry can be achieved.
The director, who received an award from the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2007 for her debut feature film Love Conquers All, will be putting this into motion by organising a roundtable meeting with other filmmakers to discuss ways to improve work procedure.

“If we make a presentation deck, and send it to a client, it is work and not an idea anymore. If the client, in the end, uses a scene from the deck, they should at least get permission. These are some of the things we want to discuss during the roundtable.”

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