We’ve probably all been schooled on the hazards of plagiarism at some point. It’s common knowledge that to appropriate another’s work as your own—or fabricate a story and pass it off as true — is immoral and it's illegal. Plagiarism is often viewed as more of a concern for the sleep-deprived, caffeine-pumped students racing to meet a deadline on an impossible project, but the fact remains that it’s a mistake many professionals, leaders and talented people make. For writers and artists alike, it’s the gravest mistake to make of all, since the value of any concept, idea or art is in its originality.
But anyone can be guilty of plagiarism and it's indeed a difficult thing to avoid when information, through its easy accessibility, is seemingly free to be used and reused by anyone. Moreover, the exact definitions of what delineates plagiarism are hazy and the laws around copyright and plagiarism are still playing catch-up with the digital age. What’s more or less binding, though, is the moral obligation to be honest about one’s work.
What’s worst of all is when a person of influence claims another’s work as theirs since, once they're caught, it gives the public just cause to question that person's integrity (as well as their capability) and the slip up can’t usually stay hidden.
Regardless of its extent and gravity, plagiarism can very well be a person’s undoing. The consequences of plagiarism—resignation, legal disputes, soiled reputation, and public humiliation—are, as many of the individuals listed here show, not worth the risk of the crime.
10 Vladimir Putin, President of Russia
9 Kaavya Viswanathan, Harvard University Student
8 Joe Biden, Vice President
7 Jayson Blair, New York Times Staff Writer
6 J.K. Rowling, Author of Harry Potter Series
5 Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker Staff Writer
4 Britney Spears, Pop Icon
3 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights Activist
2 Dan Brown, Author of The Da Vinci Code
Internationally renowned author Dan Brown, most famous for The Da Vinci Code, was accused of a total of seven different acts of plagiarism. Four of these accusations turned into lawsuits but each were eventually dismissed. Brown was taken to court for allegedly copying the structure of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. Perhaps as a tribute, Brown named a character in The Da Vinci Code “Leigh Teabing”, an anagram of the names Baigent and Leigh, but claimed to have read their book late in his research. The case was dismissed in 2006 on the grounds that Baigent’s book was a work of nonfiction and that facts are free to be used by anyone.
1 Barack Obama, U.S. President
President Obama has recently been accused of plagiarizing the theme and structure for his State of the Union address. A speechwriter for former President George W. Bush claims that Obama’s speech employed the theme of “hope and opportunity”, similar to Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address. But in 2010, Bush himself was accused of plagiarizing large passages included in his memoirs. Obama has been accused of plagiarizing before in a 2008 speech delivered in Milwaukee. His speech featured lines and phrases that are almost identical to a speech delivered in 2006 by the Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. But perhaps these instances can be more readily distinguished as the effects of the oral tradition of speech giving in the U.S. It’s impossible not to follow the same train of thought when addressing the recurring issues that plague a nation. And when the goal is not to present something novel, but to address a long-standing problem, how wrong can borrowing be?
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