Plagiarism in the video contest?


Starting this blog has inspired me to dig up the results for contests that I thought about entering once upon a time but then forgot about. One big one I remember was’s “Ready2Move” video contest. The prize for first place was $10,000 and the idea was to show someone who was, you know…ready to move. Today I looked up that contest and I was freaking flabbergasted by their choice of winner! Here’s the winning video:

Grand Prize Winner. Prize: $10,000:


That video right there won $25,000 in the 2008 video contest and aired on national television! I suspect that the winner, Justin Spence of Dallas, TX didn’t just steal the idea from Jared….it looks like he even copied the Taxslayer video’s pacing, tone, locations and style! I’m going to have to break out some 25 cent words here….this looks like one of the most egregious act of plagiarism I think I’ve ever seen. The first half of this ad looks like a shot for shot remake of the taxslayer entry.  If you were to read the two scripts for these two videos they would be nearly identical.

It’s one thing to rip off the style of a Nike commercial or something but to straight up steal the idea and style of a fellow struggling, independent filmmaker? That’s just as low as you can go. What really blows my mind is that this video won even though the other contestants called this Justin Spence guy out on his possible theft. Check out some of the comments left under this video. Not only does the guy who made this video try and defend himself he viciously attacks those who accuse him of ripping off the Taxslayer guy’s video:

Rocky Collins:
Are you kidding? You plagiarized the 2008 winner!? This is for your safety that I’m telling you,you might get sued. But cool vid anyway, but it’s not really yours :-p

Justin Spence:
Come on, Rocky. Don’t be bitter just because your video for this contest completely sucks. I’ve seen your other work on Vimeo, and it’s far better than this cave man trash that you plagiarized from so many other thoughtless contestants before you who threw together something at the very last minute due to time and not being able come up with anything more than the way over done grainy silent film look. I mean, really, do you know how many times that dumb concept has been overdone for video contests? You all should be sued for not coming up with something a tad more original. But, I digress. Obviously, you’ve never seen the movie Swingers where the guys point out how filmmakers “steal” film ideas from each other all the time in their movies. Steven Spielberg from David Lean. John Singleton from Spike Lee. Countless filmmakers from Martin Scorsese. If no filmmaker ever borrowed an idea from another, then we’d all be out of business. Take your silent cave man video for this contest, for example. But, I’ll tell you what. I’m going to email this video to Jared, the winner of the 2008 video contest. If he thinks I have blatantly stole from him, I will eat my words, take this video down immediately and apologize to everyone – including you. However, if he is flattered for using his winning concept and formula for another commercial, I’m going to challenge you to muster up an apology and consider taking your silent video down. Good luck in the future, Rocky!

Lynkoya Marcell:
Well i like this video but it reminds me of a commercial…

Justin Spence
I’d like to apologize for my brash comments to Rocky. We put a lot of work into writing, shooting and editing these projects, and to be torn down by each other is not very conducive to a productive environment for us or the companies who provide these opportunities. I wish I could delete the comments and start over; however, the system doesn’t allow this. So, I will offer my sincere apology to Rocky and the other contestants and supporters of this competition. Good luck and God bless.

Thomas Scott
It’s funny how often the people who always talk about God are the same people who lie and cheat..

Matthew Brown:
What does it feel like to win when your video layout was stolen from another writer?

rob kennedy
Hmm, this looks/sounds exactly like the guys who won the 2008 Taxslayer video. I guess the idea was decent, so you “borrowed” it.

Jack Farnsworth

Paul Jones
God knows what Justin did and will judge him accordingly.

Justin Spence
Thank you,, for the great opportunity you provided. I’m thrilled the video will help your advertising efforts, and honored with the award among some great competing videos.

Despite all those comments, For Rent still gave that guy the top prize. What is really, really, really weird about this is that the video isn’t very good!  There were a few, clearly better entries and as other commenters point out, this one doesn’t even show a wacky reason for someone to move and that was the entire point of the contest. If it hadn’t been for “Justin Spence” ripping on other videos in the comment section I’d assume that he was a ringer hired by A ringer would have done a better job concealing both his (alleged) plagiarism and his temper though.

In the comments section, Justin goes on to post a letter from the Taxslayer winner, Jared Cicon.  In it, Jared says he’s cool with his work being the inspiration for this video.  You can read that and the other comments here.  Does it make it OK if the person being plagiarized doesn’t mind that he was ripped off?  No….because it still unfair to all the other contestants who worked hard and came up with their own ideas.  Actually, maybe the lion’s share of the guilt belongs to  After all, they decided to purchase and disseminate a commercial that looks like a rip off of a well known taxlsayer commercial…and that was a very dumb move on their part. (No pun intended.)

UPDATE:  Justin Spence explained his side of the story on his website.  Here’s exactly what he had to say about this:

Jared won a $25,000 video contest for with this video. I really liked how he used a Wes Anderson deadpan camera angle style on himself as the actor while talking to a buddy on the phone about the benefits of Taxslayer. I thought this was a brilliant tactic that I could use to try to win the ForRent video contest for $10,000.

As you can see in my ForRent video entry and Jared’s Taxslayer video from the links above, yes, there are some exact similarites to how I initially set myself up as the actor on the phone talking to his buddy at an upscale apartment complex. But, that is where the similarities end. The whole point of my video is to sell the user on the luxurious apartment complex that he is missing out on by not using ForRent.

During the contest, another contestant made a derogatory remark in the comments of my submission about how I plagiarized Jared Cicon’s Taxslayer video. At first, this made me really angry after growing up and seeing many filmmakers take shots that they loved from filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese et al. and use them in their own movies. There’s a famous quote in the movie Swingers, where one of the actors jokingly says, “What? Everyone steals from everyone. Every movie is derivative.” – as the camera slowly pans around them in an exact Quintin Tarrintino style pan around from Reservoir Dogs. So, I left that contestant a derogatory comment about how his video sucked and how he was just jealous.

The bottom line is that Spence saw some good ideas, shots and performances and copied them without crediting the source until after he was busted.  And that sounds like pretty much a textbook explanation of what “plagiarism” is.  However, Spence has sent me countless, obscene, angry and crude e-mails and comments since I first wrote this post and he continues to claim that what he did was not “plagiarism.”  But it seems like he simply does not actually understand the term.  When Swingers copied that shot from Reservoir Dogs, the copying was the point.  That joke only worked if the audience understood that the slow panning shot originally came from another film.  Justin however was not making an homage to that taxslayer video and he admits that he got upset when another contestant realized where he got his ideas.  Plagiarists take other people ideas, pass them off as their own and then hope no one realizes what they did.  And to me, that’s what it looks like this particular filmmaker did.

To read more about this story, click here:  Justin Spence teaches me about the Ugly Side of Video Contests.

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