Tim Russert dies at 58

June 13, 2008

Valedictorians: Don’t plagiarize the “Beatles graduation speech” on YouTube

June 13, 2008

News: In 2006, Cassandra Malloy delivered a 2-minute valedictory speech–titled “Beatles Valedictorian Speech”–at her high school graduation. The video is below, which she put on YouTube. The speech cleverly used Beatles’ lyrics and song titles to advise her fellow classmates. The Beatles references were mashed together in 1-minute.

Well, apparently in 2007, some other valedictorian made a Beatles graduation speech–titled “the Perfect Beatles Graduation Speech” and posted it on YouTube. The video is no longer accessible.

And, now in 2008, another high school student, 18-year-old Melanio C. Acosta IV, from Circleville, Ohio (who is going to Ohio State!), made a Beatles graduation speech. At first, according to news accounts, he admitted he plagiarized it and gave up his status as valediction. Now, though with a lawyer helping him, he says he only borrowed the idea from the YouTube video, but didn’t plagiarize. He’s even threatening to sue the high school for his valedictorian status back.

Analysis: What’s very interesting is that Melanio Acosta admits to getting his ideas from the 2nd video “The Perfect Beatles Graduation Speech.” But the speaker in the 2nd video, it turns out, might have copied at least the idea for the Beatles graduation speech from Cassandra Malloy, in the 1st video!

I haven’t seen Acosta’s speech, so can’t really say what I think about the plagiarism charge. Obviously, anyone is free to quote snippets from a few Beatles songs and mash them together in a graduation speech. Attribution to the Beatles was clear in the 1st speech by Malloy, and I assume in the other 2 speeches because that’s what made the speech funny and effective.

The more difficult question arises if any of the subsequent speakers simply took the exact same Beatles quotes in the exact same order, with substantially the additional words sprinkled in by Malloy in the 1st speech. Malloy’s speech was very short, but it sounded to me that she added in some of her own original content (it wasn’t just a string of Beatles quotes). So a close paraphrase or copy of her speech without attribution might raise not only a plagiarism issue, but a copyright infringement issue as well.