It’s relatively easy to figure out if something physical has been stolen. That car, bearing that license plate, used to be in that driveway. Now the license plate is in a ditch by the side of the highway and the car has been sold for parts. It’s pretty open and shut.
But in the case of intellectual property theft, it’s a little trickier. For one, there is the possibility of parallel thinking. Everyone, whether they like it or not, is submerged in the zeitgeist. That means similar works of intellectual property are going to be created. Perhaps the person accused of plagiarism hadn’t even been exposed to the product they supposedly copied, but just had the same idea at the same time. It’s unlikely, obviously, if giant swaths of text have been copy and pasted – even though a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters would eventually bang out a Shakespeare play, it’s still pretty unlikely – but general concepts are harder to claim are just one person’s (ahem, Kylie Jenner.)
I’m not here to say whether or not the following celebrities plagiarized. That job, thankfully, belongs to the justice system. My job is to chronicle a list of celebrities who have been accused, by law or by social media, to have copied a significant portion of a piece of their work. If you’re curious, let’s jump right in, and get to what 10 celebrities in Hollywood have been accused of stealing their stuff.
When in 2003, Beyonce and Jay Z made “03 Bonnie and Clyde”, no one thought they were claiming to be white collar criminals. But they both appear on this list, so maybe their Bonnie and Clyde’ing wasn’t bank hold-ups but idea-poaching. Either way, let’s get right into it. Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker claims that Beyonce stole her moves in her video for her catchy 4 song “Countdown”. Beyonce responded by saying that, yes, she had been inspired by the choreographer, along with many other cultural producers including Audrey Hepburn, Andy Warhol, Twiggy, and Diana Ross. Although it kind of seems like Beyonce was just placating her by comparing her to the greats, it would’ve probably worked on me.
9. Robin Thicke
Robin Thicke‘s “Blurred Lines”, featuring rappers Pharrell and T.I., was the biggest song of summer 2013, consistently blocking the other Pharrell track, “Get Lucky”, from reaching #1. But some people didn’t like the song, and not only for it’s sexually-abusive undertones. The family of the late Marvin Gaye claimed, in court, that “Blurred Lines” was a rip off of their ancestor’s 1973 track “Got To Give It Up”. Thicke kind of shot himself in the foot when he told GQ men’s magazine: “Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favourite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up’. I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove’. Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it.”
8. Jay Z
Patrick White claims that in 2009, his computer was compromised and various “expressions, colors, and phrases” showed up the following year in Jay Z’s 2010 memoir Decoded. The man says that he tried to contact Jay Z, but nothing came of it. Apparently, multi-millionaire rap moguls don’t have time to chit-chat with randoms making small claims against them. But the man pursued the affair, and went after Jay Z in court, suing him for unspecified damages against for copyright infringement and invasion of property. Again, I’m not here to point fingers, but it seems unlikely that Jay Z would steal someone’s work when he can hire the best ghostwriters on earth to create it for him.
7. Lady Gaga
If you’ve ever thought that Lady Gaga‘s #1 song “Born This Way” sounded familiar, you might be a Madonna fan. According to many people, the song, released in 2011, sounds a lot like Madge’s “Express Yourself”. At first, Lady Gaga claimed that her very obvious predecessor signed off on the similarities. According to her: “I got an e-mail from her people and her, sending me their love and complete support on behalf of the single and if the queen says it shall be, then it shall be.” But then, after she started getting slammed for plagiarism, Lady Gaga struck back saying: “If you put the songs next to each other, side by side, the only similarities are the chord progression… It’s the same one that’s been in disco music for the last 50 years.” Not to be partial, but she’s kind of right…
6. Joe Biden
A fact forgotten to many, Joe Biden ran for president himself in 1988. And as it will happen when you apply to be a politician in the U.S., people went in search of dirt in his past. And found it they did: apparently, he had copied a portion of a law review article into a paper for class. On top of that, Biden had copied parts of other peoples’ speeches into his own. The kicker in all of this? Even though Biden says that this whole scandal was “much ado about nothing” (literally copying Shakespeare to downplay his own copying), he admitted to cheating but said there was no “malevolent intent”. Yeah, there never is, Joe. But it’s still not right. Malarky!
5. James Cameron
James Cameron, who made like more money than most of us could ever even conceptualize from Avatar, allegedly made it off the back of someone else’s hard work. Apparently, the idea of having a handicapper lie in a machine and be Matrix’ed into a functioning body to explore another planet is a plot first devised by Paul Anderson in his novella Call Me Joe. The only real difference between the two is that Avatar happens on fictional Pandora and Call Me Joe happens on Jupiter. Other than that, it’s more of the same. The guy, thrilled with the capabilities of his new form, earns the respect of the natives and eventually decides to remain among them. Looks like James Cameron had some unobtainium of his own that he wanted to acquire…
4. Amy Schumer
This year, a scandal erupted when three female comedians said that Amy Schumer stole their jokes. They claimed that they had been aware for a while, but that they were reluctant to come forward lest they be accused of stereotypical female professional jealousy or trying to shine some of Schumer’s star power on their careers. Then, more and more people came forward claiming that the Trainwreck blond had stolen from them, too. A side by side comparison of all the original + “stolen” material may seem suspicious, but as Schumer puts it succinctly: “I had definitely never seen Tammy Pescatelli — like, I didn’t happen to catch her 2006 Comedy Central special and sit on that bit ’til I got a movie. Like, I sat on that bit for nine years and then was like, ‘Here’s my chance to steal that Tammy — the famous Tammy P! — bit.”
3. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I have a dream…” that I actually wrote my entire dissertation myself! Unfortunately, dreams don’t always come true. Racism is still rampant in today’s United States, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t write his own 1955 PhD. dissertation. That is what a group of Boston University scholars, MLK’s alma mater, recently concluded. Other allegations claim that the civil rights leader also copied portions of his speeches, papers, and larger academic work. Hopefully, this is one of many ruses to discredit the inspiring, hopeful figure of racial equality, rather than proof that MLK wasn’t the upstanding citizen as which he presented himself to the world.
2. Sam Smith
Sam Smith broke out recently with his single “Stay With Me”, an ode to neediness that had many people thanking God that emotions still existed in this age of swiping, deleting, and hooking up. But once again, perhaps the public persona is more earnest than the person to whom it belongs. One person not infatuated with Sam Smith’s song was Tom Petty, who claimed that it was a rip off of his song “I Won’t Back Down”. I was even in the car with my dad once when he said: “This song is a remake”, but then couldn’t remember what it was a remake of. Tom Petty, true to his name, sued Smith, and eventually received a co-writing credit on the track.
1. Katy Perry
Another instance of musical similarity was Katy Perry‘s “Roar” and Sara Bareilles‘ “Brave”. The latter came out in 2014, and the former in 2013. Once again, I don’t find them particularly similar, but many people did (thematically or musically? It’s unclear). Unlike some of the other people on this list, who gave into their urges and pursued the “offending” artists in justice, Bareilles laughed about the similarity, acknowledging that Perry’s “Roar”, with over a billion views on YouTube, was a huge boon to her song, which probably got more than half of its views from people checking to see how much alike they sounded.