Famous Plagiarism Cases (And How They Could’ve Been Avoided)

Plagiarism is the bane of the creative arts, and it’s highly frowned upon in many professional spaces. Essentially, plagiarism is using someone else’s words or creative work as your own. In addition to professional discrediting, you could also face massive lawsuits and financial consequences if you are caught.

Although there are varying levels of plagiarism, it’s all considered highly unethical and illegal. This can range from stealing someone else’s work to self-plagiarism and even subconscious inspiration from another uncredited source without attribution.

Some of the best-known instances of plagiarism involve highly-regarded professionals and even Pulizer prize winners taking the intellectual property of others. Unfortunately, even legacy companies like the New York Times and CNN aren’t immune.

Since even allegations of plagiarism can be enough to harm your career seriously, it’s essential to avoid being labeled a plagiarist. This includes only using your own creative work in real life and on social media, always using quotation marks to indicate sources, and understanding various cases of plagiarism.

Fortunately, if you’re careful, you can avoid a plagiarism scandal. These famous examples of plagiarism and what went wrong in each should shed some light on how you can avoid making the same errors in your work.

Famous People who Plagiarized in Music

Some of the world’s most famous plagiarism cases involve music, and the reigning kings and queens of the art form are not immune. George Harrison of Beatles fame got into some boiling water when his song “My Sweet Lord” sounded a bit too much like The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.” Harrison was charged with copyright infringement and had to pay $587,000 for his error.

More recently, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams found themselves in plagiarism’s crosshairs with their famous mega-hit “Blurred Lines.” Marvin Gaye accused the pair of ripping on his song “Got to Give It Up.” Although Thicke and Pharrell fought the claim, they were both found guilty of plagiarism and required to pay five million dollars apiece.

Professionals Caught Plagiarizing in Writing

When you think about famous plagiarism cases, the first thing that probably crosses your mind is the literary sphere. There are plenty of professionals caught plagiarizing in their writing. Self-plagiarism is still considered a massive no-no in the academic and creative worlds, so some, like Jonah Lehrer, plagiarized from themselves. When Jonah Lehrer stole from one of his old articles for a New Yorker piece, sharp-eyed readers found out and exposed him.

Although self-plagiarism might not rise to the heights of plagiarizing from others in terms of financial costs, it can still cause significant problems for your career. Lehrer lost valuable credibility points, and his reputation took a significant hit.

Alex Haley, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Roots, found himself in serious trouble when Harold Courtlander accused him of lifting material from his novel The African. However, unlike some of the other cases on our list, Haley conceded that he’d taken parts of The African, and the case was ultimately settled outside of court.

Cases of Plagiarism in Politics

Plenty of politicians have lifted parts of their speeches from other people, but when you’re stealing from a beloved national figure, you’re likely to get caught. For example, former first lady Melania Trump made a speech to the 2016 Republican National Convention that sounded suspiciously like Michelle Obama’s speech eight years prior. Although Trump changed a few words in the speech, it was far too similar to Obama’s speech to go unnoticed.

During one of Joe Biden’s first presidential runs, he made an error that would haunt the former Vice President and current President for the rest of his career. In 1987, Joe Biden took some lines from Lord Kinnock, a British Labour party member. Although Kinnock quickly forgave Biden for his plagiarism, saying that he was sure it was unintentional, the gaffe remains one of the most significant cases of political plagiarism of all time.

Preventing Plagiarism

Since plagiarism can have such dramatic and devastating effects on your career and even lead to financial problems, it’s vital to understand how to prevent it. There are a few key ways to keep yourself and your career free and clear of plagiarism charges.

Self-Plagiarism is Plagiarism

One important key to keep in mind is that self-plagiarism is plagiarism, even if you are unlikely to sue yourself in the future. Self-plagiarism can definitely ruin careers and may cause others to question your ethics and professionalism. Take these steps to avoid self-plagiarism:

  • Express old ideas in fresh ways
  • Carefully plan out your work
  • If something sounds too familiar, it is

Expressing old ideas in fresh ways is one crucial way to avoid self-plagiarism. If you’re an expert in your field, there’s a good chance that you’ve written a lot of different papers or takes on the same subject. You need to ensure that each take has a fresh angle. If you’re writing about something that you’ve explored several times before, take some time to read your previous work. Even unintentional self-plagiarism can be a big problem.

Carefully planning out your work and looking out for red flags are other ways to avoid self-plagiarism. We all tend to fall back on familiar tropes and ways of saying things, so if something flows a little too well, you might have already written it that way. Create a new outline for each piece of work to make sure that you’re hitting all the critical points you want to in a new and unique way.

Use a Plagiarism Checker

Plagiarism checkers are total lifesavers, and it’s a good idea to run your work through one before submitting it. As we’ve seen in the case of George Harrison, it’s possible to plagiarize without even knowing it. Your subconscious might pick up on something and store it for later use. Whether your plagiarism is intentional or simply an unfortunate accident, it’s still illegal and unethical.

Quetext’s citation generator and plagiarism checker are nifty tools that allow you to have total peace of mind. You can rest assured that not only are you properly citing your sources but that all of your information is totally plagiarism-free. It just takes minutes to run your work through a plagiarism checker, and it’s completely worth it.

Wrapping Up

If you’re an artist, creative, or intellectual, charges of plagiarism can seriously damage your career and reputation. Everyone knows that plagiarism is wrong, but repackaging others’ ideas into your own words can be easy and tempting. Moreover, even the most sincere artists are susceptible to the unintentional burglary of creative ideas.

Regardless, the career-crushing ramifications of plagiarism are very severe—some people recover from them, but most of them don’t.

These famous cases of plagiarism can give us some context. Whether or not Haley thought he was simply getting inspiration from The African or knowingly took parts of the work is certainly up for debate, but the charge of plagiarism still stands. The takeaway is always to cite your sources and be upfront about your inspiration.

And, in Melania Trump’s case, even if you change a few key things about a personal story, you could still encounter some trouble if your version is too close to the original source. Always use your own, fresh material and be very careful if your work sounds too similar to someone else’s.

Ultimately, if you do your due diligence, pay close attention to your work, and understand plagiarism, you should be able to avoid it.