18 High Profile Cases of Plagiarism

"It's Britney, b*tch"... or is it? Plagiarism, also known as copycat syndrome, has been easier to do since the early 1990s, thanks to the creation of the Internet, but it is also harder to get away with these days, thanks... well, thanks again to the Internet. Whether it is writers stealing work from other writers or journalists fabricating whole events and sources, the proof can always be found in the pudding, or perhaps more likely, in the Wikipedia search. In other cases, most people can remember where they read an idea first, especially when they were the ones to have written it.

But why create your own art or speech when you just can remake or reuse someone else's? Can you really blame a Utah schoolmarm for trying to riddle published Christian romances with porn? And why not use inspirational passages from other politicians in your platform? It worked for them, right?

What we can learn from our political candidates and mega pop stars with sticky fingers is not only that there will there be another job, but that talk is cheap and lawyer bills are not. Get ready to get out your extinguisher — because pants will be on fire —  as you read through the 15 most offensive cases of high profile plagiarism below.

  • Melania Trump, wife of Donald Trump
    Photo: Brooks Kraft/Getty Images

    Who: Melania Trump, designer, model, and wife of 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump

    Her Plagiarism: Melania Trump's speech from the 2016 Republican National Convention appeared to plagiarize First Lady Michelle Obama's speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

    For example, in her 2016 speech, Trump said, "From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect."

    Eight years before, Michelle Obama said, "Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values — like you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect."

    This video demonstrates some other striking similarities between the two speeches.

    The Trump campaign initially released a statement explaining, "Melania's team of writers took notes on her life's inspirations and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking."

    Donald Trump then shifted focus, blaming his presidential opponent Hillary Clinton for stirring up the controversy in order to discredit him.

    • Born: 04-26-1970
    • Age: 52
    • Birthplace: Sevnica, Slovenia
  • Malcolm Gladwell, author
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    Who: Malcolm Gladwell, author

    His plagiarism: The bloggers at Our Bad Media, after exposing BuzzFeed’s Benny Johnson and CNN's Fareed Zakaria for plagiarizing, have pointed their finger at another popular author: Malcom Gladwell. 

    Gladwell didn't lift entire passages without attribution, but he did borrow stories and anecdotes from other sources, without ever actually talking to them. The way that he quotes the sources does actually make it look like he had talked to them. . . except he hadn't. It's a blurry line for certain, but Gladwell's public condemnation of this exact practice doesn't help his case. 

    • Born: 09-03-1963
    • Age: 59
    • Birthplace: Fareham, United Kingdom
  • H. Gilbert Welch, a Health Policy Expert At Dartmouth

    H. Gilbert Welch, a Health Policy Expert At Dartmouth
    Photo: Bluerasberry / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Who: H. Gilbert Welch, a distinguished health policy expert at Darthmouth College

    His plagiarism: In September 2018, Welch stepped down from his position at Darthmouth College after being accused of plagiarizing the work of other professors for a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The paper discussed the benefits of breast cancer screenings. Associate Professor Samir Sonji claimed Welch did not credit him and Hiram Beltran-Sanchez, a researcher from UCLA, whose methodologies and investigations were not properly cited. Dartmouth agreed Welch could stay at the school if he agreed to stop teaching and to make Soneji a co-author on said paper, but Welch would not. 

    "I cannot in good conscience accept the demand that I make the complainant an author - much less the demand that I make him the first author," Welch said. 

  • Who: Britney Spears, "Work B*tch" singer

    Her Plagiarism: In 2005, Spears and her record label, Sony/BMG Music, were sued by Steve Wallace for allegedly stealing his lyrics. Wallace claimed that her 1998 hit, "Sometimes," was similar to the song he submitted to a lyrics contest the year before. Although the case was dismissed, a new plagiarism hit on Spears alleges her single, “Hold It Against Me” copies several lines written by the Bellamy Brothers in 1970.

    • Born: 12-02-1981
    • Age: 41
    • Birthplace: McComb, Mississippi, United States of America