Film & TV News

Artists voice out over Leo Burnett’s responses towards plagiarism allegations

PROMINENT creatives have gone on Facebook to share their views on Leo Burnett Malaysia (LB)‘s alleged plagiarism in the creation of Cannes Lions-shortlisted short film Rubber Boy.

Yesterday, representatives from LB began responding to filmmaker Tan Chui Mui‘s allegations that Petronas television spot Rubber Boy utilised a concept proposed by Da Huang Pictures in December 2014.

LB Creative Director James Yap insisted that the advert was based on personal experiences, believing that his story had been “stolen” and “the actual writer vilified” due to Chui Mui’s allegations. Meanwhile Business Director Eswara V. A. N. Sharma went as far as to quote Shakespeare’s Othello and deny accusations, claiming that accusers are just hoping to “grab a piece of success”.

Eswara also shared images which he claimed were doctored by Chui Mui to fortify her agument, which Chui Mui responded to by warning others not to send over PowerPoint presentations that can be edited.

LB then released an official response, visible on 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. The creative team at Leo Burnett that worked on Rubber Boy for the Petronas CNY short film has affirmed this and we stand by their version of how the Rubber Boy story and script were developed. The Rubber Boy story is based on an idea that our internal pool of talent at Leo Burnett, in close collaboration with our client collectively worked on.

Following these postings, notable Malaysian creatives have chosen to air their opinions on the matter and ask important questions.

Does Leo Burnett claim to have come up with the entire thing?

Filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu points out that Leo Burnett has not addressed the scenes which were included in Chui Mui’s original pitch.

It was just coincidental that they both personally have or know experiences to tell about rubber tapping. Even though LB never addresses the ever important scene of the whole message of the advert… that Da Huang wrote.

The pivotal scene depicts a young boy in a rubber estate failing to lift his mother’s latex collection. The mother comes by, picks up the basket quietly and proceeds with her task, changing the boy’s perception.

Is this the result of flawed industry practices?

Author Zedeck Siew, formerly editor of Kakiseni and but currently working with Liew Seng Tat on The Girl With No Head, sees it as a manifestation of uncompensated and unacknowledged labour in the creative industry.

Now, developing ideas, writing them down, clarifying them, doing the research, pitching specific scenes — that’s something. That’s work: writing, planning, research photography.

As much as operating cameras or catering for a production is work. They pay their caterers, no? The crews they hire, the companies from whom they rent equipment? Their script-doctors?

Travelling backwards through the process, suddenly things get airy-fairy. “Where do ideas come from?”-ness.

Suddenly work stops counting as work.

Meanwhile, music educator and professor Wan Zawawi Ibrahim believes the matter concerns intellectual property and that Chui Mui’s rights have been breached.

This is very wrong; copyright belongs to author, Tan Chui Mui, and must be publicly acknowledged; please consult intellectual property legal regime in Malaysia.

Filmmaker Joel Soh, critical in the making of Astro Shaw‘s Polis Evo, also believes that more attention should be given to the problematic pitching system instead of vilifying Leo Burnett.

Did Leo Burnett look into the background of their pitcher?

Eswara’s response provoked some backlash, particularly when he accused Chui Mui and team of “desperation” for the success earned by Rubber Boy. Filmmaker and founder of publishing house FIXI, Amir Muhammad did not agree with LB’s perception of Chui Mui as a filmmaker.

Someone from Leo Burnett wondered aloud on their FB if Mui wanted to tumpang their glamour. This is obviously someone who doesn’t know of Mui’s various international awards — awards won for, you know, actual films rather than the “kerja menipu orang” (anyone who’s been in LB for years would know who was fond of saying this to describe the work they do) that are the raison d’etre of ad agencies.

Are creative agencies the problem?

During a chat last weekend, Chui Mui claimed that the model of the creative agency is quickly losing its relevance as production houses command more and more responsibility in the creative process over time.

Most recent to post their responses concerning the conduct of agencies include the likes of renowned composer Saidah Rastam and filmmaker Dain Iskandar Said.

In a Facebook posting earlier today, Saidah, a research fellow at Khazanah Nasional currently instrumental in the preservation of Malaysian music heritage, aired her views on advertising agencies and responded to statements which cropped up over the past few days.

To those who say that “ideas are nothing without execution”, I say, execution without ideas results in pure dreck. What wins awards, what raises something above the rest is that spark of originality. To those who say “how can you compare 6 slides of a pitch to 180 pages of script”, I say- this comparison is ridiculous. You are mistaking quantity for quality. As for those who say “people are less unique than they think, we’ve seen presentations starkly similar to each other” I say- this should ram home to you the massive plagiarism that goes on. And to those who say, “don’t be so protective over your ideas- it’s just an idea” I say: the problem with that kind of thinking is that it’s usually voiced by people who couldn’t be creative to save their lives.

It was a sentiment which resounded with Dain, a film and commercial heavyweight with an Oscar-submission to his name, who addressed Saidah’s post.

Yes, I’ve had worse shit than this in my day, when I was shooting commercials for ad agencies, as Saidah Rastam says, ethics, morality are not words in their dictionary, but award/s is, and they love bandying that big C word, so called Creative, when its actually just a four letter word to them… I’ve even been tricked into going to a pitch for them without me realising it, cos they told me they got the job… but all they wanted was to use my name… and another time they called me in to discuss something, and I swear to you, before I knew it I was in, and apparently leading the team to do a pitch for them that afternoon to a big airline corporate client, needless to say I just got up and left…

Elsewhere, musician Nick Davis too believes the problem lies in the people working in a creative agency, as seen in his strongly-worded response on the issue.

These people, as long as it gets them up higher into the food chain they’ll cheat and steal to get to where they are or want to be. They have no sense of pride for their work and no respect for people who gives them ideas and work that they so willingly take credit for.

Observing the furore on Facebook, Tan Kien Eng, CEO of Leo Burnett Group Malaysia & Singapore is currently reaching out to Chui Mui over the matter. Industry publication Mumbrella however reported that the firm is also seeking legal action over the allegations.

Notably, just six months ago Kien Eng had presided over the disqualification of advertising agency Dentsu Utama from last year’s Kancil Awards due to plagiarism.

We take a serious view of work that are deemed sufficiently close to works created originally elsewhere. This action is being taken to remedy a contentious situation while upholding the principles of eligibility for the Kancil Awards.

Following that incident, Dentsu Utama insisted that the disqualification was “unfounded”, and proceeded to resign from the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents (4As). In that case, Dentsu denied accusations of plagiarism because it has modified the original author’s work sufficiently.

Chui Mui has refused to comment further on the issue until her upcoming meeting with Leo Burnett, but she hopes to see more discussion on improving working conditions in the creative industry.

What do you think?

What will happen after this?
Leo Burnett will sue Tan Chui Mui.
Leo Burnett will admit to using Tan Chui Mui’s idea.
The issue will be quietly resolved out of court.
Laws and policies will be altered and enforced to protect intellectual property.
Leo Burnett will deny all allegations and leave the 4As.

Survey Maker


Read more about the issue from our previous coverage and make sure to leave your comments below!


  1. “Mother’s latex collection?”

    Please tell me that was an editorial oversight.

    Because that would be kinda weird dude, real talk.


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