Famous Cases of Plagiarism: More Than a Tradition, Practically an Institution

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While many current writers face the ugly realities of plagiarism for the first time, a misconception is mounting that plagiarism is a relatively new phenomenon; one only perpetrated by the untalented, inept, or simply unscrupulous. But those of us wh

With many new writers currently facing the ugly realities of plagiarism for the first time, a misconception is mounting that plagiarism is a relatively new phenomenon; one only perpetrated by the untalented, inept, or simply unscrupulous.

But those of us who have been writing for a number of years--longer than there has been online publishing--we are quite aware that this side-effect of legitimate writing has a history almost as long as prose writing itself (there are countless fairy tales and children’s stories, for example, that would not be known today if not for plagiarism), and is not one that can realistically be expected to be controlled or simply guilted away.

In a very real sense, although it is always frowned upon and often leads to lawsuits, plagiarism is a facet of writing, (and I use that term loosely), that has co-existed with legitimate writing for all recorded history; a fact, ironically, owed to the practice of plagiarism).  And while all legitimate writers certainly have the right to be incensed by the flagrant pilfering of their hard-researched material, it’s important to keep in perspective that plagiarism is practically an institution unto itself, possessing a rich history all its own.

Here are a few examples of plagiarism from just the past century. This is not an attempt to in any way condone this abhorrent behavior, but simply put a recognizable face on it.

>The 1922 film Nosferatu was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's now-classic novel, Dracula. Stoker's widow sued the producers of Nosferatu, and had many of the film's copies destroyed (although many exist to this day).

>In the early 1980s, the famous biographer and author Alex Haley was permitted to settle out-of-court for $650,000 after having admitted that he plagiarized large passages of his monumental novel, Roots, from The African, by Harold Courlander.

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>In 1984, science fiction author Harlan Ellison sued and won a plagiarism case against James Cameron, claiming that his film, The Terminator, plagiarized his episodes "Soldier" and "Demon With a Glass Hand" from the classic sci-fi TV show, "The Outer Limits."

>Although many have now forgotten, now Vice President Joe Biden was forced to withdraw from the 1988 Democratic Presidential nominations when it was revealed that he had failed a course in law school due to plagiarism. It was also shown that he had copied several campaign speeches, notably those of British Labor leader Neil Kinnock, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

>Leiden University Psychology professor René Diekstra, a well-known author of popular books, left the University in 1997 after accusations of plagiarism.

>Well-known writer and television commentator Monica Crowley was accused of plagiarism for a 1999 article she published as her own on Richard Nixon.

>In 2002, the Weekly Standard showed that "American History Laureate" Doris Kearns Goodwin had plagiarized text in her book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys without attribution, as well as numerous phrases and sentences from three other books: Time to Remember, by Rose Kennedy, The Lost Prince, by Hank Searl, and Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times, by Lynne McTaggart.

>In February of 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair came under fire following revelations that an intelligence report about Iraq's weapons program that his office had made public that month was, in large part, plagiarized.

>Jayson Blair, then a reporter for the New York Times, admitted to plagiarizing many high-profile articles, and faked quotes including the Jessica Lynch and Beltway sniper attacks cases. He and several high-ranking editors from the Times subsequently resigned in June 2003 amidst such alligations.

>Moorestown, New Jersey, high-school student Blair Hornstine had her admission to Harvard University revoked in July 2003 after she was found to have passed off speeches and writings by several famous figures including Bill Clinton as her own original prose in articles she wrote as a student journalist for a local newspaper.

>In November of 2003, the government of the United Kingdom was accused of copying text from the work of a California State University- Monterey Bay post-graduate student for its security dossier on Iraq, dubbed by the media the “dodgy dossier.”

>The doctoral thesis written by Kimberly Lanegran at the University of Florida was copied nearly verbatim by Marks Chabedi and submitted at the New School. When Lanegran discovered this, she launched an investigation into Chabedi, and he was fired from a professorship at University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and New School revoked his Ph.D.

>Nicholaos K. Artemiadis has recently published a book, History of Mathematics from a Mathematician’s Vantage Point, which was proven plagiarized from Morris Kline's text, Mathematical Thought From Ancient to Modern Times.

>American scholar, author, and political activist Ward Churchill, professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is currently being investigated on charges of plagiarism, falsifying research, and until recently, forging his resume and ethnic identity.

While nothing is likely to stop the practice of plagiarism, it should be recognized that the trend toward posting and publishing articles online that provide no authority nor references is making it further difficult for readers to separate fact from opinion.  A writer has to consider where his or her obligation lies: Are you here solely to dump unsubstantiated material into cyberspace as quickly as you can, simply to make money?  (Which is what motivates many plagiarists.)  Or do you provide well-documented, factual pieces to benefit your readers--for which you should be fairly compensated?  If it's the latter, you are obligated to at least substantiatate your claims with references all readers can trace.  No, this will not end the practice of plagiarism, but it will at least raise the quality of material presented to the public.

References:

http://www.nutsandboltsguide.com/plagiarism.html.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2736149.stm

http://www.log24.com/log05/050710-NA.html.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/03/education/03HAMI.html

http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/systems-management/2003/11/14/dodgy-dossier-syndrome-rife-in-the-workplace-39117905/

http://www.papillonsartpalace.com/alex.htm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-j-weiner/doris-kearns-goodwin-worl_b_18139.html

Images by Wikipedia.org and:

http://www.poorwilliam.net/pix/haley-alex.jpg

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