Australian Political Leader Caught Plagiarizing 'The American President'

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

She starred opposite Michael Douglas in the dramedy about a widowed US president who falls for a lobbyist.


Anthony Albanese, leader of the Australian House of Representatives, has been caught lifting a passage from a speech given by Michael Douglas in the 1995 film The American President.

The movie speech was written by Aaron Sorkin, who made intellectual property disputes sexy 15 years later in The Social Network.

Here's what Albanese had to say when speaking earlier this week to the National Press Club of Australia: "In Australia we have serious challenges to solve and we need serious people to solve them. Unfortunately, Tony Abbott is not the least bit interested in fixing anything. He is only interested in two things: making Australians afraid of it and telling them who’s to blame for it."

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The quote is undoubtedly similar to what Douglas' character had to say in The American President when standing up at a press conference to rebut criticisms made by a political opponent:

"We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it."

So far, Universal Pictures, which distributed the film outside the US, hasn't taken any action, as far as we're aware. But one blogger at IPKitten believes that the studio could make a case that the politician violated Australia's Copyright Act of 1968 that protects dramatic works from being reproduced in "substantial part."

Of course, the speech was hardly a commercial endeavor and it's possible that the appropriation was merely de minimis under Australian law. And it should be noted that the quoted excerpt in Sorkin's screen speech in The American President was preceded by these words: "You want free speech?" asks Douglas rhetorically. "Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make you blood boil, standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs things you would spend your lifetime opposing at the top of yours."

After the Australian media noted the plagiarism, an embarrassed Albanese gave his reaction on Twitter: "D'oh! Stuff up (for the record, that comes from another great American, Homer Simpson)," he tweeted.

In all probability Albanese won't be sued, but while we're on the topic, we'll also note a possible misappropriation by a politician much closer to home.

This one comes from Los Angeles Country Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson, who came out with a web advertisement a few weeks ago that attacked his challenger, Carmen Trutanich.

The political ad blatantly apes the Warner Bros. Hangover: Part II sequel. Here's a look:

Jackson is already in a legal thicket over this one. A photographer who worked for Trutanich is alleging that his photographs were used in the advertisement without permission.

But Warner Bros. might also have a solid case against Jackson for trademark dilution, dress infringement, and more.

A potential legal showdown would bear some similarities to MasterCard's famous fight with Ralph Nader over campaign ads that mimicked MasterCard's "Priceless" commercials. In that case, a judge found that Nader had made "fair use" of  the credit company's slogans.

But Jackson arguably went several steps beyond anything that Nader did. The politician not only evoked Hangover II in his use of title and certain features like a monkey. On the website, he also used Hangover II's distinctive luminescent font style and in the political commercial, perhaps most brazenly, he took Warner Bros. logo, transforming the "WB" into "WP," or "We the People."

Free speech or another case of D'oh?


Twitter: @eriqgardner