Intellectual property issues – Manila Standard

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It almost went unnoticed, if not for people with a penchant for noticing minor but tell-tale details in just about anything under the sun.

Last week, the Department of Tourism was the focus of controversy after it was discovered that an to promote the Philippines as a tourist destination seemed a little too similar to a like-minded in another country.  In essence, both advertisements convey the message that a person does not need to see what he can enjoy and appreciate. 

Whether or not the DoT is an instance of plagiarism is not the concern of this essay.  What is important is that the elicited so much adverse commentary that the DoT decided to scrap its P650-million contract with McCann, the advertising agency that came out with the controversial promotional material.  

There is, of course, the question as to how and why the advertising agency concerned could come out with an many considered as too strikingly similar to some other commercial of the same nature.  Being a large and famous advertising agency with an international clientele, McCann should satisfy the public demand for an explanation in that regard, especially since public money was spent in the process.

The DoT also has some explaining to do.  Why did it approve the without ascertaining if it is too strikingly similar to other advertisements?  Sure, the DoT cannot be expected to be familiar with all the advertisements in the world.  As the nation’s tourism nervecenter, however, the DoT ought to be familiar with the competing, promotional materials of the tourism bureaus of other countries—unless DoT officials have not been doing their requisite research work, and are simply enjoying the perks of public office without attending to their concommitant responsibilities.  Attention, President Rodrigo Duterte! 

Since millions of pesos in taxpayer money have been used in this , a state audit is certainly in order.  Moreover, and because of the taxpayer money angle, a noted public interest advocate is now considering bringing this matter to the Office of the Ombudsman. 

This is not the first time a controversy involving alleged plagiarism has haunted a Philippine government agency.  A few years ago, the government agency which promotes the annual film festival in the national capital region every December came under fire because of the agency’s for the film festival.  Critics argued that the agency’s was virtually identical to the colors and graphic design used in an earlier, foreign promoting a film festival abroad. 

The private sector is not without fault, either. 

Decades ago, a local real estate development company came out with primetime television advertisements.  When it was discovered that the advertisements lifted from the musical score of an American motion picture about the mythical Shangri-La, the advertisements were discontinued.  Fortunately, the intellectual piracy was short-lived.

In the 1980s, a local meat processing company promoted its meat products using an brazenly lifted from a segment of the American educational TV show The Electric Company.  Nobody from the USA appears to have protested because the meat company was the main sponsor of the Philippine broadcasts of the TV show. 

Many congressional politicians in the Philippines have resorted to the unauthorized use of copyrighted music in their expensive radio and TV campaign advertisements.  Ironically, while they seek to be elected or reelected to the legislature, they themselves violate the law against intellectual piracy. 

Intellectual piracy is also prevalent in TV programs and documentaries. 

There was once a controversy surrounding two now-defunct TV game shows which had similar formats.  The first one required studio contestants to choose between a sum of money offered by the game master, or the mysterious contents of a box.  After some haggling, the contestant was asked to make up his mind.  On the other hand, the second program asked its studio contestants to select between a sum of money and the unknown contents of a shopping bag.  As expected, an issue relating to intellectual piracy reached the courts.

In the early 1970s, a popular TV game show which went on the air every Sunday at noontime required its studio contestants to spin a rotary wheel, answer randomly selected questions, and collect prizes for each correct answer.  The program was apparently discontinued when it was learned that it was similar to an existing American TV program.  

Many local TV programs, past and current, are unauthorized copies of the original American show.  US TV programs which have been imitated in the Philippines include Candid Camera, Bewitched, and Rowan & Martin’s Laff-Ins.  A famous US TV comedy about a bungling secret agent who had a telephone hidden in his shoe, was also copied in a local film. 

There is a Philippine film which is a virtual Tagalog version of the classic Hollywood masterpiece Wuthering Heights.  Another local film from the 1980s imitated the storyline of the Hollywood movie Karate Kid.   

Many local films produced between 1960 up to about 10 years ago used copyrighted songs in their soundtracks without securing the prior permission of the copyright owners.  Some local movies used the melodies of copyrighted songs and supplanted the English-language lyrics with Tagalog ones, again without the consent of the copyright owners.

Singers and song writers of the 1960s were notorious for supplanting the English-language lyrics of hit pieces like Candida and Kiss Me, Kiss Me.

American comic book superheroes have been copied and passed off as originals in Philippine publications.  The characters imitated include “Wonder Woman,” “Captain Marvel,” and “Plasticman.”   

Fortunately, a number of TV network managers in the Philippines have decided to obtain the requisite franchises to broadcast local versions of existing TV game shows abroad.  That is a good start, and hopefully, the Philippine penchant for intellectual piracy will reach a downward trend at last.

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